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Arcon prefabricated housing, exhibition site of
Tate Gallery grounds, Millbank, London SW1
Arcon prefabricated housing, exhibition site of
associated engineer
Sir Ove Arup
date  July 1944
UK era  Modern  |  category  Building  |  reference  TQ300786
photo  Arup
The research organisation known as Arcon developed designs for prefabricated housing, which was much in demand after World War II. The Arcon Mark V became the standard Ministry of Works house type. Its steel frame was designed by Ove Arup, with other engineers contributing to other aspects.
Towards the end of World War II, in response to a severe shortage of housing in the UK's war-torn towns and cities, the Ministry of Works sought designs for factory-produced prefabricated housing that could be delivered and erected quickly in any location. By the summer of 1944, bombing had rendered homeless half a million citizens in London alone.
Arcon was a new type of research organisation, sponsored by several manufacturers with the aim of improving links between industry and architecture. It was formed in 1943 by architects (George) Edric Neel, Raglan Squire and Rodney Thomas. Neel had once worked for the Modernist architects Wells Coates and Denys Lasdun, and likely encountered Arup through their contacts with the MARS group. Before the war, Neel had worked on the prefabrication of concrete housing for the Cement Association in Coventry, where he may also have crossed paths with Arup.
In July 1944, the Ministry of Work's three shortlisted designs, including Arcon's contribution, were demonstrated in an exhibition in the grounds of the Tate Gallery in London. One design was to be selected for implementation.
In February that year, Arup had became a member of the Government Prefabrication Committee. He was working on designs for various de-mountable buildings — bungalows and two storey houses. He had submitted three options to Arcon.
From the designs exhibited at the Tate, the Arcon bid was selected. The second most popular was the Aluminium Bungalow B2. Neel's design for the Arcon Mark V — with Arup's steel frame, clad in corrugated sheeting and lined in plasterboard — became the standard house type. Orders were placed for considerable quantities, as the Ministry estimated that up to 150,000 such houses would be needed.
The Arcon Mark V (pictured above) measured 7.45m x 7.16 m. It came complete with bathroom and kitchen, and boasted ducted warm air heating, modular kitchen fittings, pre-wiring using electrical cable harnesses, and prefabricated floor and ceiling panels. It stood on a simple concrete raft slab.
Supply of the houses was a huge undertaking. In the end 41,000 were built — less than expected. Even so, 145 manufacturers were involved, and 5,000 working and component drawings produced. There were some 2,500 components for each house. The last Arcon houses were delivered in 1964. What had been intended as a temporary solution to an urgent housing shortage became a mass-produced design, examples of which have lasted until the present day.
The Arcon group existed until 1967, continuing its research into materials and techniques for prefabricated buildings, especially for tropical countries. Arcon didn't undertake commissions for individual buildings and after Neel’s death the organisation lacked something of its original impetus. In the end it was absorbed into the Taylor Woodrow construction group.
Research: ND
"Building Systems Industrialization and Architecture" by Barry Russell
John Wiley & Sons, London, 1981
"Theory and Design in the Second Machine Age" by Martin Pawley
Basil Blackwell Ltd, Oxford, 1990
"(George) Edric Neel" in The Concise Grove Dictionary of Art
Oxford University Press, 2002

Arcon prefabricated housing, exhibition site of