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Last edited 05 May 2021
CLASP (Consortium of Local Authorities Special Programme) was a prefabricated, light-gauge steel building system introduced in 1957 to help with the rebuilding that was urgently needed after the Second World War. It was originally devised by Donald Gibson, an architect with Nottinghamshire County Council, as a system to rebuild schools, and was further developed in association with Hertfordshire County Council and its county architect Charles Aslin.
Combining the resources of local authorities and the standardisation of components that the system involved resulted in significant cost savings. CLASP became popular in the coal-mining counties of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, mainly because of its ability to quickly reinstate buildings which had been badly affected by mining subsidence. British Rail (Southern Region) adopted the system in the 1960s and 70s, using it for signal boxes and station buildings.
CLASP’s lightweight steel components could be assembled to create a four-storey building that could be clad with a variety of modular panels, allowing a varied aesthetic. One of the system’s main benefits was that due to its cold-rolled steel pin-jointed and vibrating roller base, it could accommodate movement from subsidence, which was especially important in mining areas. Although intended originally for schools, the system was also used to build offices and housing.
Created initially to have a design life of 60 years, many of the buildings have reached the end of their life. One of the problems associated with CLASP is the large amount of asbestos used in the construction; some of the schools still have the material in place.
CLASP fell out of favour from the late 1970s, largely because of the demise of system build generally. But it is still in use today under the name of SCOLA (Second Consortium of Local Authorities) and MACE (Metropolitan Architectural Consortium for Education). It also goes under the name of Scape System Build, a local authority-controlled company wholly owned by Derby City, Derbyshire County, Gateshead, Nottingham City, Nottinghamshire County and Warwickshire County Councils in equal shares.
A number of high-profile projects were completed using CLASP. Perhaps the most famous is Smithdon High School in Hunstanton, the first building to which the term ‘brutalist’ was applied, designed by Peter and Allison Smithson (1954); and St Paul’s School, London by Powell & Moya (1968).
It is a moot point whether the results of CLASP were aesthetically satisfying: some found the buildings attractive, others found them too industrial. Detractors of CLASP called it the ‘Collection of Loosely Assembled Steel Parts’.
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