Last edited 30 Jan 2021

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Institute of Historic Building Conservation Institute / association Website

Prefab bungalows

Prefabs 450.jpg
Prefabs, Elisabeth Blanchet and Sonia Zhuravlyova, Historic England, 2018, 115 pages, 54 colour and 38 black and white illustrations.

For a relatively short time in the post-war decades prefab bungalows were a familiar building type in towns and cities up and down the country. The foreword to this book by the former Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock shows that prefabs were often also a step up in living standards for the people who moved into them and that they offered a chance for residents to progress in life. We later find that Admiral Lord Alan West spent his childhood years in a prefab. Other prefab residents emerge as engaging personalities fiercely attached to their homes.

The authors trace the origins of prefabs in plotland developments and in early experiments in the later 19th and early 20th centuries such as ‘homes fit for heroes’ after the first world war. The book cites examples from the USA as well as the UK. Prefabs came into their own, however, as an answer to an acute housing shortage after the second world war. The book charts the various types of prefab systems, some of which, such as the AIROH house, developed to exploit surplus manufacturing capacity in aircraft factories. Other prefabricated systems developed by companies such as Wates, or, in the case of housing in the Scottish islands, imported from Sweden, provided longer-life houses.

The book diverges into consideration of prefabricated systems in high-rise housing, and their role in future housing provision and in emergency housing. Significant as those subjects are, these chapters loosen the overall coherence of the theme of the book. Finally, the authors describe campaigns by residents to save prefab bungalows, and the preservation, listing and improvement of prefabs. An appendix lists the various prefab systems used in the post-war decades.

Prefab bungalows are now a rare building type, so the value of the book for conservation is limited. They are, however, significant in the history of housing and planning in the UK. Perhaps the key contemporary message of the book is that decent housing is a vital component of individual advance and social progress.

This article originally appeared as ‘A step up’ in IHBC's Context 158 (Page 61), published in March 2019. It was written by Michael Taylor, editorial coordinator for Context.

--Institute of Historic Building Conservation

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