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The Bubble House by Jean-Benjamin Maneval – 1963

Text by Riccardo Bianchini
image credits: see bylines

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Jean-Benjamin Maneval, Maison Bulle (Bubble House), 1968 model; photo © Inexhibit, 2015

“Maison Bulle” – the history of the Bubble House by Jean-Benjamin Maneval – 1963

Recently, at an exhibition in Milan, I had the rare occasion to see a restored version of the famous Maison Bulle (The Bubble House) designed by French architect Jean-Benjamin Maneval in the early Sixties.

For that occasion, the house was used as a sort of temporary exhibition pavilion for a series of works by Andy Warhol. Hitherto, I had saw the house by Maneval only in architectural history books, and not very frequently; thus, I decided to investigate a bit more that curious, yet fascinating building.

Historical framework – the futuristic plastic house

The Maison Bulle is possibly the most successful design among those  we could collectively call “futuristic plastic houses“, mostly designed in the ’50s, ’60s and early ’70s.
The concept, which originates from the experimental work of Austrian-American architect Frederick John Kiesler, and especially from his unrealized Endless House designed in 1950 (which was intended to be made in concrete, though), was developed by a generation of French, British, and Nordic designers, such as Ionel Schein (Plastic House, 1956), Arthur Quarmby (Emergency Mass Housing Units, 1962), Jean-Benjamin Maneval (Maison Bulle, 1963), Matti Suuornen (Futuro house, 1968), and Pascal Häusermann (Domobiles, 1971).

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Frederick John Kiesler, Endless House (1950), images courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York

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Ionel Schein, Plastic House, 1956

The aim was to create small “democratic” buildings, made in various types of synthetic material, which had to be cheap, modular, movable, compact, industrially manufactured, durable, and integrated into the landscape. The influence of the “space age aesthetic”, the introduction of new plastic materials, and of new utopian forms of collective living deeply influenced those designers and their vision of modernity.

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Arthur Quarmby, Emergency Mass Housing Units, 1962; images courtesy of FRAC Centre – Orléans

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Matti Suuornen, Futuro house, 1968

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Pascal Häusermann, Domobiles, 1971; images courtesy of FRAC Centre – Orléans

The “Maison Bulle” by Jean Maneval – history, design, and materials

Most of those designs were never realized or built as prototypes only. Yet, the Bubble House by Maneval is an exception, since about 300 units of it were produced, some of which still exists today.

Jean-Benjamin Maneval (1923-1986) conceived his Bubble House in 1963; a key-point of Maneval’s approach, which somehow set him apart from the other architects mentioned earlier, is his interest for the industrial production process. Indeed, teh French architect developed his plastic house though a strict collaboration with Marcel Dupleaux, an engineer from the chemical company Pétroles d’Aquitaine, and founded the company Batiplastique, together with major companies such as Lafarge, Setec, and the same Pétroles d’Aquitaine, to produce and commercialize the house.

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Jean-Benjamin Maneval, Six-Shell Bubble House, 1963, drawings

Officially named Bulle Six Coques (Six-Shell Bubble), the mass production of the house started in 1968, with three colors available: white, green, and brown, which were chosen to maximize the integration of the dwelling units into the landscape.

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The house is composed of six polyester shells, weighting 460 pounds each and identical in shape and dimensions, fastened to, and connected to one another by a lower hexagonal steel frame and an upper polyester dome; the windows are made of a single curved piece of methacrylate. Overall, the house weights 3,300 pounds, can be transported by a truck and assembled on site in few days; the structure is supported by a small concrete base.

Encompassing an internal floor area of 390 square feet forming a single, largely undivided, space; the house comprises an entrance area, two bedrooms, a living-room, a kitchen, and a bathroom. Only the bathroom is enclosed by thin internal walls. Two or more houses can be connected to one another to create theoretically infinite clusters.

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Jean-Benjamin Maneval, Maison Bulle (Bubble House), 1968 model; photo © Inexhibit, 2015

The most notable example of the use of Maneval’s Bubble House for a residential development was those realized near the village of Gripp, in the Haute-Pyrenées region of France.
Here, 20 units were installed in 1968 to create a new tourist resort; the houses were in use until 1998 and some of them are still visible now. Unfortunately, after a short period of success, the production of the Maison Bulle terminated in 1970.

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Pré-magasin Prisunic und Ferienhaus : 1967, Architekt Jean Mane

Images of the Gripp holiday village in southern France shortly after completion


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