Elisabeth Blanchet | Prefabs: Palaces for the people

EXHIBITION DATES
28 JUNE – 2 AUGUST 2013

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Photographer Elisabeth Blanchet has spent over 11 years building an archive of post-war prefabricated homes and communities in the UK. Prefabs – Palaces for the people is a multimedia exhibition that includes photographs, interviews, short films, stories, an ipad interactive platform and prefab memorabilia.

In 1943, the Government invested in a prototype, temporary steel bungalow, which became known as the “Portal Prototype”. In a speech in March 1944, Prime MinisterWinston Churchill promised 500,000 temporary new homes to deal with the acute housing shortage, although only 156,623 were produced (between 1945 and 1949). The first prototype was displayed outside Tate Gallery, London in May 1944.

Over the years there has been much interest in prefabs from writers, the general public and through the media. Actor Michael Caine and politician Neil Kinnock were both famously brought up in prefabs. Recently, the popular television programmes Foyle’s War and Call the Midwife have both featured prefabs and ignited people’s interest in, and nostalgia for, post-war British design. Architectural heritage consultant and writer Greg Stevenson and sustainable housing expert, architect and writer Brenda Vale have authored two of many books on prefabs.

Designed for homeless families with young children, these “palaces for the people” (as they were called at the time) were synonymous not only with comfort and luxury but also with freedom from the cramped and unsanitary urban housing of pre-war Britain.

© Ted Carter in one of the 2 bedrooms of his prefab on the Excalibur Estate. Ted repairs old radios, July 2012

Intended to be a short-term solution to the post-war housing crisis, the prefabs were supposed to last only ten to fifteen years. However, there are large numbers of people still living in their original prehab homes on estates around the UK, including Catford, South London and Moseley, Birmingham, with a few models receiving grade II listed status.

At the time of construction, many municipalities introduced the estate layouts that they intended to use when replacing the temporary accommodation a decade later. These estates were arranged following the formal geometry then popular in municipal design: large greens, crescents and other attractive features. Such planning innovations contributed to the instant sense of community that many felt upon moving into their ‘temporary’ homes.

Prefab residents have been struggling for years to save their bungalows from premature demolition. And those who have moved on from living in prefabs maintain fond memories. Neil Kinnock, former Labour leader who grew up in a prefab in South Wales, told Blanchet:

“It was a remarkable dwelling and a piece of wonderful engineering. In order to move in, my parents had to buy new furniture and a lasting impression was cleanliness and newness. And in a sense the prefabs have never lost that feeling. With our inside bathroom and our inside toilet, and our fitted kitchen with our refrigerator, this was 1948, a fitted electric stove, fold-down table, it was a place of wonder. We used to get visitors from all over the place just to come see this amazing house.”

Exhibition Events

Elisabeth Blanchet In-Conversation
With David Kendall (Goldsmiths, University of London)

Thursday 4 July, 18:30 – 20:30 | Photofusion Gallery

Photographer Elisabeth Blanchet has spent over 11 years building an archive of post-war prefabricated homes and communities in the UK. Prefabs – Palaces for the people is a multimedia exhibition on display at Photofusion from 28 June – 2 August 2013, including photographs, interviews, short films, stories, an ipad interactive platform and prefab memorabilia.

David Kendall’s photography and research explore how spatial, economic and design initiatives, as well as participatory practices, combine to encourage social and spatial interconnections or conflict in cities. He is a graduate of LCC, University of the Arts London and Goldsmiths, University of London where he studied photography, urban studies, design and sociology.

See a video of the talk highlights here: Elisabeth Blanchet in-conversation


Elisabeth Blanchet In-Conversation
With Architect Ian Abley & Historian Julian Holder

Saturday 13 July, 14:00 | Photofusion Gallery

Ian Abley, with his wife Kate Abley, runs ‘Audacity’, a campaigning company that advocates developing the man-made environment. With Professor James Woudhuysen of De Montfort University in Leicester, Abley is the co-author of Why is construction so backward? (Wiley, 2004). He is also the co-editor of Manmade Modular Megastructures (AD magazine, January/February 2006). He occasionally writes for Building Magazine, and is starting a regular column in Construction Manager.

Julian Holder is an architectural historian. He contributed to the publication ‘Cold War kitchen: Americanisation, Technology & European Users’ (2008). Holder was commissioned to do research on Prefabs by the English Heritage in the early nineties. This research then lead to the first Prefabs to be legally protected in Birmingham as part of the EH post-1939 thematic survey. Holder also worked with Venezuelan artist Meyer Vaisman for an exhibition on prefabs at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery in 1998.


Catford Prefab Estate Tour

Saturday 20 July, 14:00 | Catford Estate

We will meet at the Catford estate (address details will be sent to those booked on). Once there, Elisabeth will give us a tour round the prefab estate, and hopefully introduce you to some of the locals she met throughout her project.


OAP Afternoon Tea Party & Exhibition Tour

Tuesday 30 July, 14:00 | Photofusion Gallery

For this event we welcome you to an OAP Tea Party, where everyone can come together to share their stories and memories of prefab estates whilst enjoying some tea and traditional post-war recipe cakes. Elisabeth Blanchet will also be there to talk about her 11 year photographic archive project and give a tour of the exhibition.


To book a place on any of these events:
jenna@photofusion.org
+44 (0) 20 7738 5774

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To see more of Elisabeth’s work visit: www.elisabethblanchet.photoshelter.com