It’s only by chance and thanks to my good friend and fellow prefab anorak, Mickael Sendra, that I found out about Jean Prouvé’s re-assembled – and embellished ! – prefab, or rather the “habitat tropical du Cameroun” as it is its real name. And that’s where it originally was erected in 1969 to be used as a school.
You can only visit the Friche de l’Escalette by appointment as it is on a 19th century industrial estate which used to be a lead factory. That’s what we did with my good friend Françoise. We were only 6 people, sharing the same passion for architecture, design, abandoned industrial estates and… prefabs! It was one of the best visits I ever made in my life.
We started by taking off our shoes to get into the inside of the beautiful structure. Some Charlotte Perriand’s chairs were waiting for us to sit on.
Our lovely guide, Kevin, started by telling us about the history of the bungalow, how Eric Touchaleaume, the owner of the Friche de l’Escalette and expert in light architecture structures, managed to find it in Cameroun, how he managed to dismantle it, repatriate it and re-assembled it here, on the best spot of the Friche, a few yards from the sea, and the calanque.
We were all impressed by Eric’s obstination and determination to repatriate the structure and by the talent and knowledge he put into re-constructing the prefab.
He actually assembled two bungalows together, re-elevated them, kept as much as he could from the two original structures – the aluminium “nacos” windows/curtains, the metal structure… -, used a special wood from Africa, the Okan, and managed to achieve a wonderful job.
After a good half an hour enjoying Kevin’s knowledge and explanations, we started to climb the Friche to discover what was left of the estate: a succession of stone arches, wells, tracks to get to the sea where the lead was transported.
From the top of the Friche, the view on the sea was fantastic and the place felt loaded with the past. The lead of course, but also the German occupation during WWII.
The Germans dismantled all the metal structure of the factory to re-use it. It makes the stone arches look a bit naked without a roof.
Then later, till the late 90s, squatters used to come and spend some time and even holidays on the Friche. The numerous and various graffitis are the proofs of a rich alternative past. It’s easy to imagine endless rave parties in the open air tunnels of the Friche…
Which make you think of the future. What are Eric’s plans for such a spectacular place? Well there is the Jean Prouvé to visit as well as the Friche till the end of September. There are also interesting pieces of art installed on the Friche: Marjolaine Dégremont and Vincent Scali’s sculptures.
Next year, Eric Touchaleaume is planning a Plastic Utopia exhibition showing all sorts of light plastic architectures objects! And for the future, here is a link to his ambitious vision of his “parc de sculpture et d’architecture”: http://friche-escalette.com/histoire/futur/
If you are around before the end of September, the visit of the Friche is UNMISSABLE.