Perched to the side of the misnamed Petite Palais in Paris, is the unlikely sight of a silver, dodecagon Apine Refuge hut. This 12-sided little edifice was built 72 years after it was first designed by modernist architects Charlotte Perriand and collaborator Pierre Jeanneret, the less famous cousin and business partner of the Swiss architect Le Corbusier (real name: Charles-Édouard Jeanneret). The structure was initially designed in 1938 and dovetailed with a growing interest in Apline tourism and Perriand’s own passion for the great outdoors. Alas, WWII put a stop to many things, including quirky architectural pop-ups like this one.
The Refuge Tonneau proposed various advantages over the traditionally log cabin. The structure weighs 40 kilos and can be assembled within three days – weight and time efficiency are definite pluses in the context of high-altitude construction. It’s also fire resistant, wind resistant and the aluminium cladding reflects sun/snow glare, reducing inside temperatures on sunny days. Although only 8sqm, this particular model sleeps 8-10 Aplinists, eight upstairs, with another two in the living area if required. (Modernist trademarks such as built-in/fold away furnishings assist in the hut’s transformation.) A larger version of the refuge was designed to accommodate up to 32 people providing they arrange themselves in a circle, sleeping with their heads to the exterior wall and feet facing inwards. (We’ve seen similarily space efficient sleeping arrangements on South American beaches with hammocks swung around a central pillar.)
This model was constructed as a student project in Thônes by ARTE (Art Contemporaines in Thônes) and the University of Technology in Annecy, using materials and building techniques of the 1940s. What it’s doing outside the front of the Petite Palais was unclear to me until a google search revealed that there’s an exhibition of Charlotte Perriand’s work inside.
Perriand may not be as well known as Le Corbusier (gender relations at the time help explain why) but she’s credited with the prototype designs for the ultra-modern kitchens in Unité d’Habitation in Marseilles; she also co-designed iconic furnishings such as the LC2 Grand Confort and the B306 Chaise Longue.
Seen in the context of some of Paris’ grandest buildings, it a truly graphic illustration of the radicalism – and modesty – of modernist architecture. Add the exhibition to your hit list for ‘Things to Do in Paris’ this summer. Charlotte Perriand 1903-1999 until September 18, 2011.