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When concrete was king: Inside the Crystal Palace prefab expo of 1964 1

black and white photograph showing two figures in black clothing walking towards a prefabricated building with signs reading 'Modular Society'

The Modular Society’s display © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove (CC BY-SA)

Come with us to the Industrial Building Systems and Components (IBSAC) Exhibition of 1964… Go on, you know you want to…

The year is 1964 and in a little corner of South London the great and good of the concrete and building industry are extolling the virtues and wonders of prefabricated concrete.

The Industrial Building Systems and Components (IBSAC) Exhibition, Crystal Palace, Sydenham, London 1964 may seem like a rather drab proposition, but at the time, off-site fabrication of pre-cast concrete box structures that could be assembled on site quickly and with minimum labour, was all the rage.

These photos were taken by the Brighton Borough Surveyor’s department, who evidently had a great day out window shopping for the latest in low cost building solutions.

black and white photograph showing row of prefabricated buildings, with crane and tower in background. Several men in smart clothing are viewing the buildings

Truscon display © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove (CC BY-SA)

Black and white photograph showing the exterior of a prefabricated semi-detached home

A Guildway semi-detached home © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove (CC BY-SA)

monochrome photograph showing two men in suits looking at prefab building

Two suited men inspect the Taylor Woodrow display © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove (CC BY-SA)

The choice of prefabrication wasn’t new; the end of the Second World War and the aftermath of the Blitz saw thousands of ‘pre-fab’ homes built for families of soldiers and workers across Britain by the Ministry of Works – who were keen to explore alternative types of materials, plans and construction to meet the shortfall in affordable housing.

By the 1960s schools and offices and homes in new towns like Milton Keynes were still being built using prefabricated construction materials – partly to feed demand and also because of a shortage of bricks.

At the IBSAC exhibition, building companies vied with each other to show the latest in experimental, mass produced, pre-cast, reinforced concrete box building design.

Precast Reinforced Concrete (PRC) construction really got going in the 1950s and 1960s and several building firms expounded the cost benefits of these steel frame and pebble-dash and tile concrete dwellings.

Many council properties, both domestic and civic, were built using the method, although by the early 1980’s – after many people had been offered the chance to buy their council homes – it was discovered that deterioration of the reinforcing steel could lead to structural problems, leading to cracks in the concrete panels. To this day sellers and buyers of PRC homes can run into mortgage difficulties – although equally there are some bargains to be had.

monochrome photograph showing glass building with winged roof

A Conder building with winged roof © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove (CC BY-SA)

monochrome photograph of semi-detached housing block with garden and seating outside

This concrete housing boasts ‘space for garden’ © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove (CC BY-SA)

monochrome photograph of prefabricated two-storey home

The two-storey Wil-Mac display © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove (CC BY-SA)

monochrome photograph of large prefab industrial building

A large Costain industrial building © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove (CC BY-SA)

Airey, Unity, Cornish, Reema, Orlit, Hawksley, Woolaway and Wates were among the companies that produced homes using the PRC method.

Wates had been active during the war as a builder of army bases and had supplied major parts of the famous Mulberry Harbours for the D-Day landings. In the post war period they embraced the system build model of building low cost housing and built thousands of properties using the method.

Lecaplan were on hand to expound the virtues of large concrete panel, non-standard method of constructing homes

By the time of the IBSAC exhibition both industrial and domestic building solutions were being proffered; many companies like Laing and Costain were trailing the latest in quick build industrial units but several companies – like the French firm Lecaplan – were still on hand to promote the large concrete panel or non-standard method of constructing homes.

Today the idea of prefabrication is having a small renaissance with new approaches to volume custom-build being tested in new builds across the UK. The trade journal Concrete Quarterly continues to extoll the potential of concrete and for many builders it remains the material of choice.

 

monochrome photograph showing people walking towards a prefab shop and flat combo

HSSB’s display © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove (CC BY-SA)

monochrome photograph of two-storey prefab home

A two-storey unit on show © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove (CC BY-SA)

monochrome photograph showing a group of prefab buildings at exhibition

A group congregate outside the TRUSTEEL building © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove (CC BY-SA)

monochrome photograph showing advertising stand for prefab company LAING

Advertising displays for the LAING company © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove (CC BY-SA)

monochrome photograph showing prefab building with large windows, with sign reading 'this is a beecham building'

A two-storey Beecham building © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove (CC BY-SA)

monochrome photograph showing lorry carrying components for a prefab building, which is under construction in the background

Langwell exhibit under construction © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove (CC BY-SA)

monochrome photograph of two women in 60s style dresses walking past a prefab building with sign reading 'lecaplan'

Two women in 60’s dress stroll past the Lecaplan exhibit © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove (CC BY-SA)

monochrome photograph showing man in suit walking past a row of two-storey prefab homes

A man walks by a row of three two-storey homes © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove (CC BY-SA)

monochrome photograph showing a group of people conversing and reading around a large display advertising for WATES System

A busy stand advertising the WATES System © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove (CC BY-SA)

monochrome photograph showing man sat at table in the patio area of a row of prefab homes

A punter tests out the garden in this row of Jansel homes © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove (CC BY-SA)

These images are from a collection of photographic material gathered by Brighton Borough Surveyor’s department. The collection was transferred to Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove in 1990. You can view some of the items via the museum service’s Digital Media Bank here: dams-brightonmuseums.org.uk

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Brighton & Hove, East Sussex

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One comment on “When concrete was king: Inside the Crystal Palace prefab expo of 1964

  1. Nick Clarke on

    Fascinating collection of photos. In fact not all of the houses in the photos are concrete. Some are timber frame: Guildway and Calder (the one near the end with the ‘zigzag’ roof with weather boarding at the top), and one is steel (Trusteel – the clue’s in the name).

    Detailed information on all the various prefabricated houses designed and built in the UK between the end of WWI and 1975 can be found in the book/CD ‘Non-traditional houses’ published by BRE in 2004. Around 1.5 million were built in attempts to tackle the housing shortages after the wars, and then in the 1960s.

    BTW, the link to the Digital Media Bank works better as https://dams-brightonmuseums.org.uk

    Nick Clarke

    Reply

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