I wasn’t familiar with the French designer/architect Jean Prouvé until several years ago when I photographed an auction house in New York that was selling some of his furniture. He is well-known in France, less so over here. When I read that his Maison Tropicale, a metal kit house, was on display in Queens, I organized a family outing, and off we went through the wilds of Long Island City.
LIC is the neighborhood just across the East River from the United Nations. It’s a hodgepodge of factories, lofts, single family houses, and a new high rise enclave known as Queens West. PS 1, the former school turned modern museum is in LIC as is the Citigroup tower that pokes skyward above everything.
We took the 7 train over and began walking north toward the 59th Street Bridge. I took lots of pictures of the crazy quilt landscape along the way. Chain link, slabs of concrete, poles, trucks, auto body shops. On the left was a Con Ed power plant with the Midtown skyline as backdrop. Some sort of electrical shed was disguised as a clapboard house complete with slanted roof and window. Just at the bridge, a hotel–looking like a ruin–was, apparently, nearing completion.
As we entered the fenced in area where the Prouvé house was displayed, we passed a poster advertising the upcoming Silvercup development, designed by Richard Rodgers, soon to go up on the site. Just over a rise, toward the river, the little metal house stood beneath the towering stone and steel bridge.
A steady stream of visitors found their way to the site by foot, car, and bicycle. It was a sophisticated looking bunch. Foreign languages. Everyone taking pictures. Inside the house, book were on sale, and the porthole windows in the sliding doors cast a blue glow. Christies is expecting 4 to 6 million for the house, but it could go higher. So says someone quoted in the paper. The house will undoubtedly be fabulous on someone’s estate, or in a museum courtyard, but it will never be seen better than here in Long Island City.