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Non-traditional Houses: Identifying Non-Traditional Housing in the UK 1918-75

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By Harry Harrison, Stephen Mullin, Barry Reeves and Alan Stevens. BRE, 2004. 948pp. £270

Given the recent scares, somewhat inflated, about the structural state of post-war housing in this country, this book will be of immense value to anyone interested in clarifying the real condition of the housing stock, excluding flats. With admirable restraint, the preface notes that 'ill-considered work to such houses, without proper understanding of the principles which need to be followed, could lead to much wasted investment'.

Standing effectively as the culmination of research began in 1986 for the Department of Education, the book comes with a CD-ROM of 82 BRE Research Papers and a search facility to check through hundreds of local authority records for details of non-traditional housing that might be encountered in that area. Or users can type in the house-type to discover where it can be found. This is a good oldfashioned CD that does the trick reliably but has a certain dated quality to its appearance.

But so what?

Type in 'Newcastle upon Tyne' and discover a range of buildings from BISF Type A1 through to Airey and Tarran, the ubiquitous Wimpey NoFines and even a USA Temporary Bungalow.

Throughout the book, the photographs do a good job of making the buildings look pretty ropy (check out the Gateshead Corporation or the Walter Segal), but this undoubtedly reflects their real condition.

On each double-page case study, there is a list of the building type's identification characteristics, the numbers built, any alternative name, the designer responsible, a construction specification with a cut-away construction detail, and any note made of a typical variations to the design and detailing that might be encountered. It also includes a note for surveyors to highlight areas of concern.

For example, the Airey (alternative name 'Airey new improved duo-slab house') is 'designated defective (with) cracking of PRC columns.

Water penetration through PRC panels (and) high chloride content in PRC panels'. ) For other house types, the notes to surveyors provide a shorthand statement with a reference to guidance documents on the CD-ROM.

The short introduction on the history of non-traditional and prefabricated housing starts with a photograph of the earliest No-Fines houses in East Cowes on the Isle of Wight in 1852, but the authors have used the end of the First World War as their starting point, reflecting, as it did, a change in the technology and the pace of change of experimental housing. It is a shame that the production values of the book are not higher; it would have been good to see more of the 1928 prefabricated 'Cottabunga', for example, described on the advertising poster as 'a charming bungalow cottage delivered, carriage paid, to any goods station in England or Wales, ready to erect, for £295:10 net.' In conclusion, this book is expensive, probably, but a work of impressive scholarship, definitely. Those in the field or with an interest in our housing stock will agree that the book is an invaluable resource.

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