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Building Homes (1950)


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The history of the Laing family, who built their first home in 1848. A century later, the firm John Laing & Son is responsible for a range of contracts: a steel mill in South Wales, a modern knitting wool factory in Darlington, a runway near Bristol, the BOAC head office, Middlesex County Hospital, open cast coal sites, a new power station in Plymouth, and a cement works at Shoreham.

The Easiform permanent house is a response to current housing problems and the demands of government and local authorities. The Easiform system had been established 25 years earlier to build an estate near Gosport, followed by one near Plymouth. Now, it resolves the problem of a shortage of craftsmen and skilled labour after the war, using innovative methods to raise a house to eaves level in eight days.

The system uses concrete inner and outer walls to make a cavity wall system, built around steel shutters which do not require skilled labour.

The Hollington Estate in Hastings is a typical project, with houses and other facilities in various stages of completion. The site is cleared by bulldozer, and trenches are dug with a multi-bucket digging machine. The damp course and foundations are laid and levelled and scaffolding is erected. The first lift of shutters is laid, along with the wooden formwork for fireplaces, doors and windows.

The concrete batching plant is placed at a strategic location to service the whole site, and its mixer fills the shutters with concrete. Different kinds of concrete are needed for different parts of the wall. Window sills and other elements are pre-cast.

The second lift of shutters is prepared. A thin layer of grout is applied between concrete layers. The first layer of shutters is lifted to reveal the first stage of the wall. Steel reinforcement rods are applied at strategic areas. Other parts of the build are more traditional, including carpented floor joists. The shutter faces are coated with mould oil to prevent cohesion with the concrete, and the cavity is cleaned between each day's concrete level. The house is then finished with traditional methods, to complete the roofs, windows, plastering and the overall finish.

The completed homes are contrasted with cramped communities. The new homes have gardens, as a by-product of a compromise between grand town planning schemes and practical needs. Different layouts are available to meet local authority needs: semi-detached, terraced or flats. Many local authorities have made use of the system, with some offering repeated contracts (eleven in Bristol, for instance). Easiform houses are not pre-fabricated: they are built to last, they have a proven history, and are the kind of houses that people want to live in.