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Technique and Ideology: A critical examination of the industrialised houses of Konrad Wachsmann and Jean Prouve

Part 1 Dissertation 2006
Paul Rawson
University of Edinburgh Edinburgh UK
The individual house is an intense condition where industry and economics come to bear against culture, tradition and emotion. Argument about the virtues of industrialisation, applied to this most individualistic subject, transcends a long catalogue of manifestoes and experiments in which the 20th century’s most notable architects are implicated.

Two of the most vocal characters in this history were namely Konrad Wachsmann (1901-1980) and Jean Prouvé (1901-1984). In Wachsmann and Prouvé we have a particularly persuasive debate about the potential of industrialised construction. They were not only men of bold pragmatic action, but of strong theory and manifesto.

Both championed ‘industrialisation’ though it clearly represented diverse concepts in the minds of each man. Wachsmann’s objective was not a house but the mass production and wholesale of a construction system whereas Prouvé accepted what he saw as his responsibility to improve the quality of society that he lived in.

What is particular is that they each evolved an architecture, whereby the concept and the realisation were inextricably related. From the principle to the detail each presents a coherent strategy, exploiting the potential of industrial methods in the production of housing. For Le Corbusier, the machine age offered a ‘means of supplying the elementary and perennial human needs – above all, the one that had been conspicuously forgotten in the headlong rush to industrialisation: a decent dwelling for everyone.’ In Prouve’s response we observe the innovation and responsibility of a humanitarian and socialist. Contrastingly, from Konrad Wachsmann we receive a doctrine of engineered efficiency and idealist system. The comparison of their products and methods provides an interesting appreciation of their characters.

Both men remained influential throughout the 20th Century, their early technological strides leading the way to the High-Tech ‘style’ of the 80s and 90s. However the achievements of their industrialised housing systems, in particular, are largely forgotten. It is proposed that the lasting relevance of Konrad Wachsmann and Jean Prouvé is in the perfection of such systems, the mastery of technique and the mania of ideology.

Paul Rawson

The dissertation was a delight and pleasure to tutor. Paul was rigorous and intelligent in tutorials, he never accepted or rejected any point without clear understanding. He worked at the level one would expect from a first-rate postgraduate research student. Paul started with an idea to study the work of Konrad Wachsman and his own sense of enquiry led him to consider also the work of Jean Prouvé and the industrialisation of building more generally. The resulting study is erudite, thorough and novel. It brings new insights into the role of technology in architecture and its social and humanitarian consequences.

Professor Remo Pedreschi

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