Essay on Material Choices, Architectural Design and Mass Production of the AIROH House

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University of California, Santa Barbara
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Architectural designs have undergone epical changes influenced by the contemporary socioeconomic and political factors. Virtually every building embodies the current forces that influence the conception of designers. Availability of energy for transportation, welding of metallic structures, and dismantling them during relocation is one of the changes that greatly influenced the United Kingdoms architecture in the period between 1945 and 1980. The construction of AIROH buildings, its material choices, and designs manifest the significant advantage that increased the availability of energy presented in the history of architecture.

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The AIROH building would be assembled from four sections each of which was delivered to the site by petrol or diesel powered Lorries. The large scale production of each of these alternative architectural designs took as little as twenty minutes on average and required only two thousand components as opposed to the twenty thousand used in producing aircraft. AIROH houses were built by Aviation Industries Research Organization on Housing which constructed aircraft used during Second World War. The house which is sometimes called aluminum Bungalow was the fourth type of prefabricated houses built immediately from the period of war. The British government encouraged the construction of non-conventional or non-traditional homes as part of its descent home for warriors campaign.

The UK administration allocated finances for the construction of temporary houses. Three possible reasons explain the need for non-permanent structures by the UK government during this time. First, there was a need to persuade the public to accept living in small two bedroom houses which were constructed through non-conventional means. Second, there was a need to placate the building organizations and rejuvenate the confidence of traditional architects that the government had a commitment to preserve their ingenuity. Third, the central government was to pay for the houses hence did not want regional conflicts with the local authority housing agencies. The construction of AIROH house used the excess capacity of aircraft companies. It comprised of four sections similar to the large houses constructed during the period by the Tennessee Valley Authority. It was a mass produced product by aircraft industries.

Structural Design of the AIROH House

The AIROH House floor space measured approximately six hundred and seventy-five square meters. It weighed about ten tons and was constructed predominantly using aluminum metal plates. Aerated cement was filled with the aluminum sheets to act as insulators. These aluminum sheets were then lined internally using plasterboard. The roof of the building comprised mainly of aluminum sheets laid in two layers and fitted on aluminum trusses. Only the floor was constructed using conventional timber. The kitchen and the bathroom assembly were adjusted into the structure. A section for cooker and refrigerator was left during industrial production. Activities such as wiring and plumbing were all completed at the industry point.

Fig. 1.0. AIROH prefabricated house: One of the four sections of the house being constructed for an Aluminium Exhibition behind Selfridges-London (Source: Architects' Journal, vol. 101, 1945 Apr. 19, p. 452).

Influence of Increased Availability of Energy on the Material Choices and Construction of AIROH House

The production of AIROH house was predominantly mechanized except the nailing down of the floor boards done by hand. This mechanization of the entire process shows a heavy reliance on different forms of energy including electricity and petroleum. In the mechanized process, hot bitumen was sprayed on the wall frames like shallow trays. The wall structures were then immediately passed under a battery of cement pourers to be filled with air-entrained grout which provided an insulating layer. The partly made wall panels were then passed through low-pressure steam drying ovens which enabled the grout to reach full strength in forty-eight hours. The final assembly of the components was done on the moving belt system, during which the final paint spraying was carried out. Each unit of the house had fully emerged wired for electricity glazed and painted.

The AIROH houses were adequately fitted with power connection at the industry point. This connection at industry point would be joined with existing power connections at the assembling site thus an expression of the designers idea to accommodate the need for harnessing clean energy into the temporary accommodation structures. Notably, the houses were developed during a period when electrical power was increasingly becoming known as a source of energy for domestic appliances and lighting. Wires of different diameters were fitted inside the aluminum frames to accomplish the need for internal power. The AIROH houses kitchen was designed to accommodate a kitchen assembly which had space for appliances known to use high amounts of electricity. For instance, the assembly had a space for refrigerator and cooker hence an adequate expression that the industry workers and designers appreciated the availability of electric power to be used in typical domestic chores such as cooking and food preservation as opposed to industrial activity only.

The four whole sections of the building were made rigidly to avoid damages caused by transit. In addition, the windows of the house were not well pronounced or not distributed in an elegant manner. Despite the fact that the windows were equally divided between the four sections forming the house, they were left around the corner regions hence an expression that the designers did not intend to expressly use the natural light as a main lighting in the house. Based on this fact, it is intuitive that the availability of cheap artificial light informed its construction. Various parts of AIROH house were also riveted together at the assembly point. This development implied the need for electricity to run the riveting machine for joining the various sections of the building. Conceptually, riveting all the four sections of the AIROH house at the site required a substantially high amount of manufacturing company unless it was accessible at affordable costs.

The construction, wiring and fittings for the AIROH house were all completed at the technical industry point. However, the sections had to be moved to the assembling sites using the most convenient and reliable means of transportation. Recognizing the fact that the AIROH house was mass produced along various industrial lines in the United Kingdom, it beats logic that their sustainable construction and distribution relied on energy. Lorries and trucks that were that were either powered by diesel or petrol provided a reliable and affordable means of transportation of the prefabricated sections from their point of manufacture to the site. After the parts had been moved to the destination, a particular collapsible gantry was used to position them on flat walls. Subsequently, the sections were bolted together through the use of self-positioning connectors blocks.

Aluminium formed the bulk of the metal used as materials for the construction of the AIROH house. However, the metal is difficult to weld as compared to other metals such as steel. In essence, the electricity cost implications of welding aluminum parts were higher than if alternative metals with easier weldability were selected for the building. Therefore, it beats logic that if the electricity used in welding was one of the determining factors for the choice of metals to be used, it was comparatively cheaper and accessible hence the selection of aluminum metal. Virtually every part of the building was made from aluminum trusses or sheets hence the increased need for the metal supply. The primary components of the building were supposed to be the same ones used in the construction of aircraft. The production of the thin gauge aluminum sheet coated on both sides with pure aluminum was intended to prevent corrosion. One critical need for electricity in the process of AIROH house manufacture was in the recycling of aluminum scraps. Records indicate that approximately eighty-two percent of the aluminum used were accessed through industrial recycling of remnant aluminum metal. It is approximated that every house required up to one hundred and eighty-eight tons of aluminum.

Despite having been intended to be only a temporary residence, the AIROH house was equipped with modern power consuming equipment that defied its simplicity. Evidently, every aspect of the home was designed to facilitate the use of electricity or any source of power. For instance, the bathroom was fitted with a hot water system which implied the accessibility of power.

The AIROH house was designed and manufactured in sections within five existing aircraft industries without any modifications to the plant setting. The industrial production of these new products imperatively required an additional amount of energy which could only be attained through the availability and affordability of energy supplies. In addition, the design of the houses was made to ensure the maximum utilization of aluminum as the primary raw material. The industrial production of aluminum for use in the construction of AIROH house necessitated access to abundant electricity supply.

The AIROH building was constructed with due consideration for efficient effecting lifting during relocation and final assembly at the site. Its structure was based on a chassis which formed the floor and carrying the bodywork of building. For ease of transportation, the sections of the floor frame were made lighter through the transfer of the deflections to the roof trusses. The intense industrial work facilitated by the stable supply of power distinguished AIROH house from other types of temporary bungalows or prefabricated houses. It was one of the most fabricated structures in the history of architecture and a great milestone in prefabrication.

AIROH house was among a series of prefabricated buildings that dominated the post-war housing in the United Kingdom. Some of other prefabs that emerged during the era include Airey and Arcon. The AIROH house used the facilities from the wartime period, availability of different forms of energy including electricity and petroleum and proximate standards set by the United Kingdom Ministry of Public Works. The availability of power used in the construction of aircraft resulted in the mass production of the AIROH houses between 1945 and 1951. Despite the use of aluminum as the most dominant building material as oppose to other resistant metals including steel in the building of the AIROH house, most of them remain as epitomes of unique construction designs. They are the embodiment of the efficient harnessing of industrial facilities, energy and overreaching technology to develop highly mobile structure to meet the then accommodation needs.


The material choices, architectural design, and mass production of the AIROH house at technical levels manifest the significant advantage that increased the availability of energy presented in the history of construction. Virtually every aspect the house production was mechanized which express the extent to which the different sources of energy such as petroleum and electricity were harnessed for the manufacture of temporary prefab buildings. Inside the AIROH house, wiring was adequately done to accommodate the supply of available electricity for lighting and other domestic purposes. The kitchen too had provisions for the refrigerator and electric cookers which were all dependent on an affordable energy supply. The hot water system wi...

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