Outside Marseilles, in an expansive park that bears all the hallmarks of an archaeological dig, a curious ode to midcentury architecture’s flights of fancy can be found amid the crumbling ruins of a 19th century lead factory; a romantic and idealistic treat that comes courtesy of Éric Touchaleaume and son Elliott.
The Touchaleaumes see Friche de l’Escalette as a work in progress, a work they believe will one day be a world-renowned discovery park for sculpture and demountable architecture — a celebration of the philosophie du cabanon. Now, cabanon translates literally as ‘shed’, but is more pertinent here in its manifestation as the utopian prefabricated holiday homes pioneered by design forces like Jean Prouvé, Charlotte Perriand, Pierre Jeanneret, and Le Corbusier in the 1960s and ’70s; Utopie Plastic, as the father and son’s 2017, summer-long exhibition dubs it.
With a workshop restoring these iconic design pieces functioning on site at l’Escalette since 2011, and a debut exhibition of light-weight structures by modernism pioneer Jean Prouvé running last summer, Éric and Elliott Touchaleaume open their developing project to the public between June and September, free of charge; artists-in-residence programmes and workshops for the creation and/or restoration of this type of design and temporary architecture have been put in place to enable designers and artisans to make site-specific works.
Jean Prouvé’s icon of industrial modernism, Maison Tropicale de Niamey (a prototype of which fetched almost $5 million at Christie’s, New York, in 2007), will be presented — as it was found in 2000, by Éric Touchaleaume in Niger — as part of next summer’s ode to prefabricated utopia. The Touchaleaumes’ fanciful salute to this niche moment design is as strange, fascinating, and brilliant as the works it left behind.