The prefabricated housing movement in the first half of the twentieth century made use of a variety of new materials and industrial processes to produce a wide range of innovative designs and construction methods for residential architecture. At a time when homeownership was on the rise, and the “American dream” of a single-family home in the suburbs was growing in popularity, prefabricated housing companies marketed themselves as the best means of fulfilling this goal. For many architects and entrepreneurs the interest in prefabrication as a solution for housing problems in America stemmed from a desire to provide all Americans, of every socio-economic class with well-designed, affordable housing. As a result, many of these systems of prefabricated housing appear in company towns built across the country in the early years of the twentieth century. Regardless of the reasons for their involvement in the movement, proponents of prefabrication expected it to revolutionize housing and change the face of American domestic architecture.
This thesis examines several examples of prefabricated housing systems designed and put into production in the early twentieth century and analyzes how various approaches succeeded and failed in fulfilling the goals of this movement. It also looks at the preservation of surviving examples of these various methods of prefabrication, taking into account the durability of the materials and the changes that have been made to the structures over the course of their history. The chapters are organized by material. The first chapter discusses concrete prefabricated housing, looking at examples of how reinforced concrete, a relatively new material was applied to domestic architecture. The second chapter analyzes prefabricated houses constructed using metal. There are a variety of examples of houses using either steel or aluminum as their primary material that illustrate the use of another experimental material employed in home construction. The third, and final chapter looks at examples of wood prefabricated housing, assessing the application of the most traditional home construction material to prefabrication. Each chapter addresses the benefits and drawbacks associated with each material in an attempt to give a better understanding of the prefabrication movement of the early twentieth century as a whole. Investigating the contemporary circumstances of each example, including how the houses were originally marketed given the economic, political, and social conditions of the time, as well as the current state of preservation of surviving examples lends insight into the origins of the movement and its legacies.
Thomson, Alison, "Domesticating Materials and Construction: American Prefabricated Homes, 1900-1960" (2013). Architectural Studies Honors Papers. 3.
The views expressed in this paper are solely those of the author.