Éric Touchaleaume is a Parisian gallerist specialising in the works of Jean Prouvé, Le Corbusier, and Pierre Jeanneret. He is also deeply attached to the Marseille region of France. In 2011,Touchaleaume purchased La Friche de l’Escalette, a disused lead-mine in Calanques National Park on the coastal road southeast of the city. The mine was constructed in 1851 and ceased operations in 1925 – it is now an industrial heritage landmark with a conservation order. Much of the mine’s stone structure is still standing, beautifully integrated into the hillside directly overlooking the Mediterranean.

Touchaleaume's ambition is to share his passion for lightweight architecture and contemporary sculpture with likeminded enthusiasts. The private culture park opened on the 1st of July with his pièce-de-resistance, Jean Prouvé’s 1958 Tropical Habitat, a steel-frame prototype created in partnership with architecture studio Atelier LWD.

Interior with Easy Armchairs by Pierre Jeanneret, square table by coffee tables by Charlotte Perriand (all from Touchaleaume's private collection).
Touchaleaume scoured 4,000 square kilometres of Cameroon to track down this work, resolutely convinced that it still existed. On the very day that he decided it was time to abandon his search, he discovered it intact in a suburb of Yaoundé. After intense negotiations with the village chiefs, he acquired, dismantled, and transported the structure to Marseille, reassembling it at the park entrance just in time for its inauguration. The columns, girders, and purlins are of Prouvé’s signature folded sheet-steel, and the timber base is made out of locally sourced okan wood, an African insect-repellent teak so dense it can only be cut with a metal chainsaw.

Prouvé’s ‘airplane wing’ ventilation panels provide incredibly effective natural air-conditioning, as witnessed under the hot Mediterranean sun in July. He has furnished the interior with pieces by Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand from his private collection. Sculptures by Marjolaine Dégremont and Vincent Scali are also exhibited here, integrated into the ruins of the lead mine.

Jean Prouvé’s original Tropical Habitat for Cameroun steel-frame prototype. It was used as a school and teacher's residence in a village outside Yaoundé.
The prototype of the Tropical Habitat for Cameroon is on show at La Friche de l’Escalette in Marseille until 30 September 2016 [Guided visits for small groups are free of charge and are by website reservation only].

Images © Michael DePasquale /Martina Maffini

Éric Touchelaume (in green shirt) and his son, Elliot.
Path of the guided tour through La Friche de l'Escalette cultural park.
Bird's eye view over the remains of the Friche de l’Escalette lead-extracting plant on the hillside overlooking the Mediterranean.
Marjolaine Dégremont’s "Cat's Eye" in bronze.
Marjolaine Dégremont’s 'Touching the Sky', an installation created for the Friche de l’Escalette 's inauguration in the lead mine's crushing pit, now bleached to her fetish whiter-than-white.