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17,000,000 New Homes By 1999 (1966)


Main image of 17,000,000 New Homes By 1999 (1966)
16mm, colour, 20 mins
DirectorWilliam Hamer
SponsorJohn Laing & Son
ScriptCossar Turfery
CommentatorKenneth Kendall

Industrialised building with the 12M Jespersen system now manufactured by Laing in Britain, which cuts out the time needed for site-assembly.

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12M Jesperson was one of the major investments that the construction company John Laing & Son made in industrialised building in the 1960s, here undertaken with the support of the Ministry of Housing. The system was originally developed in Denmark, where Laing produced a film on the system in operation in 1963, although this was silent and not intended for public showing. 17,000,000 New Homes By 1999 has a very different audience in mind, targeted quite specifically at the local authorities looking to quickly and economically build concentrated housing areas on a limited footprint.

From the very start of the film, the voiceover sets a challenge for town planners, dismissing the existing urban housing stock as "the grey areas; backwash of the industrial revolution; street after street of incredible monotony". 12M Jesperson is billed as the solution to all their problems: a factory method of house-building, offering rationalisation and automation along assembly lines as a natural step forward for construction, as with any other industry.

The film has to tread a difficult path, boasting of the way the uniformity of parts saves time and money, while simultaneously insisting that the resulting homes are not themselves uniform, but unique and flexible in design. Certainly, the level of pre-fabrication is quite surprising, with the flats essentially delivered in kit form. In other Laing films, the camera rarely ventures into the finished properties, preferring to focus on variations in the exterior finishings. Here, however, we see a young couple visit a furnished show flat, perhaps to emphasise the fact that despite the concrete-Meccano-style construction, the interiors can have a traditional look (although it is noticeable that the curtains are firmly closed in every room).

Despite the bold 30-year predictions, the future for such 'system built' methods of construction was dealt a fatal blow on 16 May 1968, when a Mrs Ivy Hodge lit the gas stove in her 18th floor flat in East London. Although it was not built with the 12M Jesperson system, the collapse of one side of the Ronan Point tower block of council dwellings meant that prospective tenants, and therefore local councils, lost all confidence in such methods.

Jez Stewart

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Video Clips
Complete film (19:37)
Laing Film Unit