The futuristic plastic homes that paid the price of the oil crisis
Why aren't more of us choosing to holiday in plastic cabins? Why aren't synthetic chalets more popular than wooden beach shacks and concrete pools?
The French architectural collector and curator Eric Touchaleaume believes he has the answer: he blames OPEC. "The 1970s oil crisis considerably increased the price of plastic materials," he explains, "marking a halt to the vogue of prefabricated plastic houses."
Touchaleaume's current show -- at his Friche de l'Escalette sculpture and architecture park on the outskirts of Marseille -- offers a glimpse of that wild, prefab world those commodity shocks ended.
Utopie Plastic brings together a handful of small, plastic holiday dwellings manufactured in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
A beach cube
Behold the Hexacube, a futuristic hut created by the Greek-born architect Georges Candilis in 1972.
Candilis saw his building, which could be assembled and extended quite easily to suit the needs of its owner, as simple, modernist beach dwelling.
Many Hexacubes were installed at a holiday village in the Mediterranean tourist resort of Port Leucate, though nowadays you're more likely to see one going for five figure sums over on popular online antiques marketplace 1stDibs.
The show also has a couple of Jean Maneval's Bubble Houses. Only 30 were manufactured between 1968 and 1970, though this didn't prevent one of France's groovier tour companies from establishing a Bubble House resort in the Pyrenees.
There's one of a Futuro House by the Finnish architect Matti Suuronen which looks -- and there's no other way to describe it -- like a flying saucer.
Suuronen was inspired to make this dwelling having perfected the fiberglass dome's manufacture while working on grain silos. He intended the Futuro House to serve as a prefab ski-lodge, though, again, only around 100 were produced.
The Futuro House on display in Marseille was originally used as a show home in Mallorca, in an attempt to break into the holiday home market; when the scheme failed, the building was abandoned in a pine forest, then sold on the Internet.
A plastic comeback?
This is not the most exotic find Touchaleaume has ever put on display.
Sometimes described as "the Indiana Jones of the architecture world," he has traveled to Brazzaville in the Republic of Congo and Chandigarh in northern India to find, buy and bring back highly prized works by such venerable mid-century architects as Jean Prouvé and Le Corbusier.
Today, almost anyone with an interest in architecture appreciates Le Corbusier's and Prouvé's buildings. Could we rekindle our love for plastic chalets?
Touchaleaume believes so. After all, who doesn't like the idea of an affordable, fashionable second home?
"It would not be surprising if this were not to become a topical issue again," says Touchaleaume. Now oil prices are low again.
"Perhaps 2018 will be the year to summer in plastic?"
Utopie Plastic is at Frich de l'Escalette sculpture and architecture park until 1 October 2017.