Nearly 50 years after Jean Prouvé’s “House of Better Days” was first designed, it has found a new home within the Galerie Patrick Seguin in Paris, France. The structure, initially conceived as a prototype for prefabricated, temporary housing for the homeless, was rebuilt for the installation over a three-day period within the gallery. Prouvé’s proposal packed two bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen, and a living room into 540 square feet of inhabitable space, but was rejected by French authorities due to concerns about exterior access to the bathroom.
Prouvé’s building was a direct response to several homeless people dying in the freezing Paris streets of the 1954 winter. His studio had already tested a variety of explorations into temporary housing, so this solution came naturally when he was asked by activists to consider the welfare of the homeless population of Paris.
Questions about temporary housing have often plagued governments in the wake of natural disasters, no matter the scale. FEMA continued to experience the backlash its temporary structures elicited, for years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the Southern United States. Haiti’s post-earthquake reconstruction efforts are still ongoing, as are Japan’s following the tsunami in March 2011.
After seeing the devastation in Japan, and efforts to house a displaced population, Shigeru Ban produced an easy-to-build, yet innovative screen system for increased privacy within larger public spaces. Similarly, the architectural community’s reaction to Hurricane Katrina could be seen in endeavors such as Thom Mayne’s Float House and the rest of the Make it Right Foundation’s projects.
Perhaps this is architecture at its best—when confronted with the need for basic shelter and sanitation, the least common denominator of human necessities, the simplest architecture is often the most effective.