Saturday, 10 July 2010

Prefabs to sprout?

The Nasty Party seem to have done away with the possibility of building many proper new schools for the next few years. But demographic pressures, in London at least, won't go away, and there is a growing need for new school places - never mind rebuilding the existing stock. So we can expect a boom in prefab classrooms.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, and it would be a good idea for architects to start thinking about the possibilities. Colin Davies's excellent book The Prefabricated Home (Reaktion, 2005) contains an interesting discussion of architects' various hang ups about mass produced buildings, and highlights a number of examples of architects who have grasped the opportunity to turn prefabs from buildings into architecture, and not just in housing projects, by means of a few cheap but ingenious moves (Nicholas Lacey at Trinity Buoy Wharf, Penoyre and Prasad in Bloomsbury).

When materials and money were in short supply in the decades after the end of WW2, the ingenuity of architects gave us the Hertfordshire schools and low budget housing of considerable quality. Good architects are resourceful and ingenious, and good architecure doesn't necessarily flow from plentiful supplies of stainless steel and polished granite. There's no reason why the coming Age of Austerity shouldn't give us better buildings than we got in the Age of Bling. Unless those in charge think that most money spent on architects's fees is wasted.

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