It is time to reintroduce the word ‘prefab’ into the public lexicon, said NLA chairman Peter Murray at the opening of Factory-made Housing: a solution for London?, last night.
Murray said that ‘offsite’, ‘modular’ and ‘precision-made’ all meant broadly the same things, but if Amazon was quite confidently using the word ‘pre-fab’ with its Alexa-enabled pre-fab homes then we will all probably be using it in time, and without the stigma attached to it last time around.
Murray was speaking at the private view of the show at the NLA, which examines new and innovative models of design, construction and delivery for housing in the capital and sets out the ‘modular mindset’ that London must adopt if we are to realise its full potential.
Lord Richard Rogers, who formally opened the exhibition and answered questions from attendees, said that the concept of the prefab goes back to wartime, but it was ‘about time we moved’ on from brick in housebuilding given its slow pace. ‘The car industry has moved on and in the next 20 years we will see electric planes, so you do wonder what happened to the housebuilding industry’, he said. The only constant is change, Rogers added, and we have to look to new systems in housing to adapt to the times. We are now building at the slowest rate since 1952, with perhaps even worse problems arising from housebuilders being more ‘in control’, said Rogers. ‘But what is exciting looking around here is that at last we are beginning to get prefabrication, which has been in every type of building I can think of apart from housing’.
During questions, Rogers said that local authorities developing their own housing systems was a good step forward. He also said that it was understandable why housebuilders did not want change given their profits, but that he was hopeful that this time, London might have the right ‘forces’ in place to instigate change.
The evening marked the launch of not just the exhibition but publication and events series too, as well as MultiPly – an installation outside The Building Centre demonstrating the potential of sustainable materials and modular systems, designed by Waugh Thistleton Architects, The American Hardwood Export Council and Arup.
David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly