Development of UK House Building Systems
Throughout the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s important changes in house construction were taking place with considerable attention focussed on productivity and new methods of production. The philosophy shifted towards that of Industrialised building. This is based on the principle that as much work as possible is transferred from the site to the factory leaving a simple assembly system to be carried out on site. Off-site manufacturing shifts the entire house-building process into the factory, cutting down on time and gets around the problem of the shortage of skilled labour.
After the war years the types of construction included large panel construction, Wimpey no fine concrete construction, Airey houses and some high rise buildings. 1954 was a high water mark for housing production in the UK, with just under 350 000 dwellings completed. From then on, output dropped steadily, before stabilising at a plateau of around 300 000 in 1960.
During the 1950’s high rise construction was gathering pace. There was a lot of enthusiasm for, and confidence in industrialised building by those promoting it. The bias was now towards high and medium rise flats, a pattern which was to continue right through to 1975. However, a large section of the public remained suspicious about ‘modern building’, particularly high rise construction, whether it was an industrialised building system or not. The subsidy reforms of 1967 effectively rang the death-knell for the tower block, sealed by the partial collapse of Ronan Point, a high rise, 22-storey large panel construction, in 1968.
During the 1960s another approach to construction also gained popularity. Of the great variety of approaches taken, it was found that improvements in productivity could be realised by simplifying (or ‘rationalising’) the design and construction of traditional buildings to produce the Rationalised Traditional Construction, known as ‘Rat-Trads’. They had masonry cross-walls with the front and rear elevations in-filled with storey-height timber framed panels. Dimension and details were standardised.
Another type of construction used during the 1960s and 1970s was volumetric construction which involved producing buildings as a number of boxes that are connected on site. This usually involved lightweight frame constructions of either timber or metal and some pre-cast concrete systems and pre-cast volumetric concrete systems were also used.
In the late 1970s and 1980s steel, timber and concrete systems continue with timber framed construction dominating until a dramatic downturn in popularity following adverse TV coverage. In the early 1980s an episode of World in Action was severely critical of a small group of timer framed dwellings in the West of England. The gist of the programme was that the dwellings were not watertight, and that the inevitable consequence had been early development of decay in parts of the structure. It implied that these dwellings might be typical of all timber frame construction, and that many more owners of such homes could expect severe problems in the future and accordingly timber frame could not be considered a suitably robust means of construction. A survey of more than 400 dwellings, many in areas of severe weather exposure, found no evidence of decay and the catalogue of failures predicted by the programme never materialised. But the damage was done and this area of the market collapsed because of the programme and the idea of homes from the factory was to lie dormant for the next 15 years.
1974 saw major changes in Building Regulations and very few new systems were developed after that date. The range of systems and construction techniques used has been extremely varied, with over 500 systems used between 1919 and 1976.