Prefabs: Palaces for the people - Elisabeth Blanchet

Photographer Elizabeth Blanchet currently has a show at Photofusion in London. I completed a small painting included in the show based on one of her photographs. The show is on until August 2nd. Entree is free and all details can be found here

Christmas in Catford, Acrylic on linen, 38x46cm, 2013

Prefab, Catford, Elizabeth Blanchet

Launch Night
Thursday 27 June, 18:30 – 21.00
Exhibition Dates 
28 June – 2 August 2013

Photographer Elisabeth Blanchet has spent over 11 years building an archive of post-war prefabricated homes and communities in the UK. Prefabs – Palaces for the people is a multimedia exhibition that includes photographs, interviews, short films, stories, an ipad interactive platform and prefab memorabilia. 

In 1943, the Government invested in a prototype, temporary steel bungalow, which became known as the “Portal Prototype”. In a speech in March 1944, Prime MinisterWinston Churchill promised 500,000 temporary new homes to deal with the acute housing shortage, although only 156,623 were produced (between 1945 and 1949). The first prototype was displayed outside Tate Gallery, London in May 1944.

Over the years there has been much interest in prefabs from writers, the general public and through the media. Actor Michael Caine and politician Neil Kinnock were both famously brought up in prefabs. Recently, the popular television programmes Foyle’s War and Call the Midwife have both featured prefabs and ignited people’s interest in, and nostalgia for, post-war British design. Architectural heritage consultant and writer Greg Stevenson and sustainable housing expert, architect and writer Brenda Vale have authored two of many books on prefabs.
Designed for homeless families with young children, these “palaces for the people” (as they were called at the time) were synonymous not only with comfort and luxury but also with freedom from the cramped and unsanitary urban housing of pre-war Britain.

Intended to be a short-term solution to the post-war housing crisis, the prefabs were supposed to last only ten to fifteen years. However, there are large numbers of people still living in their original prehab homes on estates around the UK, including Catford, South London and Moseley, Birmingham, with a few models receiving grade II listed status. At the time of construction, many municipalities introduced the estate layouts that they intended to use when replacing the temporary accommodation a decade later. These estates were arranged following the formal geometry then popular in municipal design: large greens, crescents and other attractive features. Such planning innovations contributed to the instant sense of community that many felt upon moving into their ‘temporary’ homes.

Prefab residents have been struggling for years to save their bungalows from premature demolition. And those who have moved on from living in prefabs maintain fond memories. Neil Kinnock, former Labour leader who grew up in a prefab in South Wales, told Blanchet:
“It was a remarkable dwelling and a piece of wonderful engineering. In order to move in, my parents had to buy new furniture and a lasting impression was cleanliness and newness. And in a sense the prefabs have never lost that feeling. With our inside bathroom and our inside toilet, and our fitted kitchen with our refrigerator, this was 1948, a fitted electric stove, fold-down table, it was a place of wonder. We used to get visitors from all over the place just to come see this amazing house.”

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