|Title||Standardization on Site: skill and the construction process in mid-twentieth century Britain|
At the end of the Second World War, constrained by materials and labour shortages, the British government promoted industrialisation of the building industry. This involved rationalising the processes required to produce buildings with the expectation that they would also be cheaper. For many architects this promised a shift from traditional materials and methods to a building process where, ideally, prefabricated, standardised, interchangeable components were assembled on site. However the profession, generally, had a non-existent relationship with labour and poor understanding of construction skill outside the traditional crafts. In 1946 Mark Hartland Thomas, together with a group of eminent British architects, investigated the wartime German building industry. After personally interviewing Ernst Neufert, and impressed with the extent of standardization implemented, he returned to campaign vigorously for a similar approach in Britain. In 1953 he set up the Modular Society to promote the use of a standardised module as the key to industrialised building.
At the opposite end of the political spectrum were those architects with a moral commitment to the social enterprise of re-building a better Britain. Also enthusiastic supporters of standardisation they regarded it not as a means for dispensing with skilled labour but as an opportunity for new technical processes to improve site conditions and increase collaboration between architects and builders. This paper examines these two positions using the examples of temporary structures erected and analysed by the Modular Society to assert the universal principles of standardised, modular design. This is compared to accounts by architects who worked on the standardised CLASP system of school building and represented a different approach to building labour in their attempts to eradicate site hierarchies and recognise the different skills necessary for building using non-traditional methods.
This paper uses archive sources together with oral history testimony to reveal how the actual skills used, disjunction with existing training system, changes in the form of employment and the increasing distance of architects from the production process undermined the rhetoric of standardization. The conviction that building can be split into a series of simple, separate tasks, undertaken by a semi-skilled workforce underpinned the approach of the Modular Society. This has become the hegemonic understanding of the British construction process despite historical evidence that suggests otherwise. The potential for a highly skilled workforce, working with technologically advanced products, remains dependent on wider social reforms.
|Keywords||Standardisation - architecture - skill - Modular|
|Conference||Standard Architecture Symposium|