Mary Dejevsky: I've got the answer to our housing crisis: the prefab

They don’t come with mountains of rubble or fleets of heavy-duty lorries

Share

When I was growing up, they were already a receding feature of the urban landscape: small-scale estates packed with one-storey houses and gardens that invariably burst with colour at almost any time of year. Many of the residents loved them dearly, as became apparent from the protests that erupted when the time came – 30, 40, even 50, years on – to replace what had been emergency housing, often built by German prisoners, and designed for a life of just five to 10 years.

Not everyone who lived in prefabs was enthusiastic. When one of the last such estates, in south-east London, was finally scheduled for demolition last year, a majority of residents wanted to leave, complaining of cramped conditions, the damp, poor insulation and primitive plumbing.

But the vote was not overwhelming, and what people liked about prefabs was that they were convenient; they had private space and gardens, and you didn't have to climb staircases or depend on an unreliable lift to reach your front door. For many, the high-rise estates that generally succeeded them were a step back in what might be called liveability.

Those prefabs have often come to my mind in recent weeks, as new construction sites have sprung up all over London. They don't come with mountains of rubble and dust-storms and fleets of heavy-duty lorries. They don't fester unfinished for months on end. They are fresh, clean and modern-looking. And when the wraps are taken off, what emerges is not by and large a monster of brick, glass and concrete, but light and elegant structures suited to their purpose as showcases. They may be temporary, but they are reasonably insulated against the elements and they have exemplary plumbing.

They are the pavilions that are being built by foreign governments and sports organisations to promote their presence during the London Games. Some are free-standing in the parks. Others are adjuncts to existing buildings. And all will doubtless be gone by mid-September. But the parallel between these structures and the post-war prefabs of old suggests that building homes for a growing and underhoused population need not be the ponderous undertaking it so often is in Britain. We appear to be rather good at designing and building prefabs for other purposes, so why can't some of this expertise be applied to everyday housing? You wouldn't want it in the Royal Parks, but there are plenty of empty brownfield sites in most cities, and high-tech prefabs must be a million times better than the garages and sheds that are turning into illegal shantytowns in parts of London.

We have a housing shortage. We have the know-how. When the Olympic caravan has moved on, let's put the two together.

The film that shows the pedalo's moment is here

There is one quality that Beijing did not have, nor Los Angeles nor Moscow, nor Sydney – all of which take themselves and their sport with unremitting seriousness. What London is already supplying in spades is a self-deprecatory irony – typified in the initial proposal to stage beach volleyball on Horseguards Parade.

All right, so the parade ground has now been largely subsumed by something awfully like a proper stadium, but the venerable backdrop is still there.

And for those who decide to turn their back on the actual sport, or take a temporary time-out, well, there's a veritable social history of Britain to be found in the theatre listings – social history that has almost nothing of national self-aggrandisement.

If you want the inspirational, you can start with Chariots of Fire. But you can go on to Billy Elliot (bitter-sweet), then to that cringe-making Mike Leigh drama Abigail's Party, and thence to Yes, Prime Minister at the Trafalgar Studios. If you still haven't got the message that there's an awful lot wrong with Britain to smile about, you could worse than drop into the cinema to see Swandown.

Two guys take the slow route, by swan pedalo, from Hastings to London. Their banter along the way includes comments about how a pedalo event would make for a slower, less competitive Olympics (positive, they seem to think) and how a spell of shared pedalling might do for the Israeli-Palestinian peace processes around the world.

The film is a gently pastoral idyll of a certain time and place. But I predict with complete confidence that by the autumn, the swan pedalo will be the must-have conveyance for any self- respecting British water park.

m.dejevsky@independent.co.uk

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Team Leader

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Team Leader is required to join one of the l...

Recruitment Genius: Chef

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Chef is required to join one of the largest ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred

Simon Danczuk
 

The epic mug battle is only the latest in a cheap set of campaign gimmicks set to define this election

Nash Riggins
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor