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How Prefabricated Steel Homes Rebuilt Post-War Britain



Businesses are increasingly reliant on prefabricated steel building installations when establishing or expanding their operations, and when they are affordable, can be erected quickly, are suitable for any purpose and are robust enough to last as long as they are needed, it is not hard to see why.


By centralising the construction work to dedicated factories that can provide the best prices and most efficient use of materials through economies of scale, they can provide high quality at low prices.


One of the most astonishing achievements in this regard was how a prefabricated house could be put together in less than a day, something that was necessary to rehouse Great Britain after the devastation of the Second World War.


However, one particular steel home that was designed to last just a decade, managed to survive significantly longer than this.


The Aeroplane Bungalow


By 1944, the end of the Second World War was in sight, and Winston Churchill’s War Cabinet started to look beyond the war, although the first preparations in this direction started as early as 1942 with the formation of the Burt Committee.


In September 1942, two years after the Battle of Britain had reduced many cities and suburbs to rubble, the Interdepartmental Committee on House Construction was formed to explore potential ways to rebuild Britain and rehouse the millions of displaced people.


This eventually became the Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act 1944, which committed the government to build at least 300,000 homes over the next two years.


There were several prefabricated projects made under the leadership of various government departments, but the most interesting of these and the one with the most unusual legacy was the Aircraft Industries Research Organisation on Housing (AIROH) House.


The AIROH House, spearheaded by the Ministry of Aircraft Production, was meant to keep aircraft builders employed and the factories opened by converting the production line into a prefabricated home made with aircraft materials and machining tools.


It was made in four parts, each narrow enough to be transported via a lorry and bearing more than a passing resemblance to the fuselage of a large aircraft. It could then be bolted together quickly by people with relatively little training.


A fully featured AIROH House could be put together in as little as four hours by five or six people.


This also allowed for the use of aluminium instead of brick or timber, both materials in exceedingly short supply in the immediate wake of the Second World War whilst aluminium had built up a surplus salvaged from broken and disused aircraft.


Finally, as with the rest of the prefabs of that era, it came with the “service unit”, a Ministry of Works standardised plumbing system that featured a boiler, waste piping, a bath with running water and the capacity for central heating.


The use of aluminium did make the AIROH more expensive than the other prefabricated options to produce, but this was offset by the sheer ease and speed at which it could be produced; due to the efficiency of the aircraft factories, a home could be built every 12 minutes with just 2000 components.


Whilst only intended to last a decade, some are still being used to this day, which highlights the remarkable ability of well-designed prefabricated structures to endure even if designed to be temporary.


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