Tomorrow: 1945 movie shows the glorious future of prefab

Solar house
Video screen capture Army-Navy Screen Magazine, No. 69, 1945/ US National Archives

We have seen this movie before.

That's a really important solar powered prefab house in the photo above, the 1945 Ready-Built House designed by Fred Keck for Chicago developer Ed Green. In his book, The Solar House, Anthony Denzer describes it as close to perfection: "Every expressive element reflected a clear environmental purpose, while the whole possessed a visual strength on par with the major monuments of modern architecture." It was from an era when prefabrication was going to deliver cheap and energy efficient housing for everyone.

Tomorrow!Army-Navy Screen Magazine, No. 69, 1945/ US National Archives/Video screen capture
Treehugger has been writing a lot about prefabrication lately, or should I say "offsite construction", which is the current buzzy term. I noted that we have seen this movie before, and now Matt Novak of Paleofuture has found it, the actual movie, talking about the promise of prefab. Because prefab is so Tomorrow.

“Pre-fabricated is the word for such houses. The parts of the house are stamped out like airplane or automobile parts,” the narrator says. “Crated, shipped, and set up at a price almost anyone can afford.”

architect with pipeArmy-Navy Screen Magazine, No. 69, 1945/ US National Archives/Video screen capture

It's great fun as architects with pipes (you can always tell the professionals, they are all smoking pipes) lay out new cities, planning 15 million housing units to be built for returning vets.

white kids at social housing projectarmy-Navy Screen Magazine, No. 69, 1945/ US National Archives/Video screen capture

They are all busy tearing down slums and building new housing with playgrounds and restaurants. And remarkably, every single person in the movie, even the kids playing at the new social housing, is white.

presses making plywood box panelArmy-Navy Screen Magazine, No. 69, 1945/ US National Archives/Video screen capture

They are inventing new materials, like this plywood sandwich panel being pressed together under the supervision of a guy with a pipe. There's shatterproof glass, chemically treated synthetic fibres, laminated plastic. It all sounds so healthy!

big prefab housearmy-Navy Screen Magazine, No. 69, 1945/ US National Archives/Video screen capture

These are mass-produced houses, built and bought like you would buy a car. That's the future.

Houses such as these were assembly line-made, proving the theory of many a planner that the assembly line principle, which results in low cost and great quantity in everything from toothbrushes to Liberty ships, can be applied to the building trades, as well as other industries.

waffle ironArmy-Navy Screen Magazine, No. 69, 1945/ US National Archives/Video screen capture

There is even a shot of one of my favourite kitchens of the future, the Libby-Owens-Ford 1943 kitchen with the built-in waffle iron and glass rotisserie, also discovered by Matt Novak. Where would I be without him?

Private Snafu cartoonArmy-Navy Screen Magazine, No. 69, 1945/ US National Archives/Video screen capture

And if you get bored with prefabs, there is a cartoon at 11:20.

Tomorrow: 1945 movie shows the glorious future of prefab
We have seen this movie before.

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