Prefabs & Flatpack

Is there a difference? Not as far as I can tell, except one sounds more “modern” than the other. You might also hear them described as modular or kit homes. There’s potentially a lot to cover under this topic so just consider this ‘part 1’ post a starter for ten.

image: facit-homes.com

image: facit-homes.com

Prefab houses as a concept are ‘fairly modern’, by which I mean, your average American could buy one for around thousand dollars from the Sears catalog shortly before the outbreak of the first world war. Upwards of 70,000 were sold. Here’s a great archive of facts about them. Sears stopped selling these in the 1940s. Make mine a ‘Greenview’ #115, available in 1908 for $725:

image searsarchives.com

image searsarchives.com

Here in Britain, we’re more likely to associate ‘pre-fabs’ with post-second-world-war housing units, in the context of a housing shortage of around 200,000 units. The Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act of 1944 aimed to build 300,000 in four years, and around 150,000 were built. Some of the prototypes had a floor area of 57m2 and cost around £600. Generally, they were planned to have a 10 to 15 year lifespan, but about 700 remain in the UK today, a very slim proportion being listed by English Heritage; the Excalibur estate in Catford, for example:

image: martin godwin/guardian

image: martin godwin/guardian

In either case, we’re looking at units that were designed to be economical, but in many cases survived a lot longer than initially thought. The UK examples in particular, despite a ‘humble’ aesthetic, actually provided a fair amount more floor space for their price than your average new build today. Some timber examples in the USA were added to, expanded and even given a faux-brick style exterior. The sheer speed of construction in response to a clear crisis – virtually no new council housing is built today, and private housing at around 100,000 a year or less. (A good article on historic house building rates here). They didn’t succeed in meeting that 300,000 target back in the 1940s but nevertheless just shows what is feasible when the political will is there. (note- for reference at the time of writing, Labour have pledged to build 200,000 by 2020 – or 33,333 per year… can’t find a Conservative one, I don’t believe they have a specific target at the time of writing… maybe I should do an ‘election special’ post sometime)

More about modern prefabs and flatpack to come in part 2!

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