The Kit of Parts as Medium and Message for Developing Post-war Dwellings
Keywords:Architecture, Modern Architecture in the United States, The Case Study House Program, Buckminster Fuller, Autonomous Dwelling, House of the Future, Kit of Parts Domes, Prefabrication, Construction Industrialization, Plastic Houses
Since the construction of the Crystal Palace by Joseph Paxton in 1851, the manufactured component became the basis for the efficient production of architecture. Making buildings from a kit of parts is a manifestation of a series of interrelated themes in architecture and its writings emerging and evolving from the mid nineteenth to the mid twentieth century: the converging of architecture with mass production, the transference of military expertise to civilian use and a search for new dwelling types for cold war subsistence. These concepts reformed construction and industrialization of construction would parallel the advances made in commodity production. The revolution in manufacturing was accompanied by and magnified social transformations leading to an ever-increasing demand for affordable urban housing. This major growth contributed to one of architectural modernity’s foremost quests: designing the post war house. The modern dwelling echoed new architectural values and was the focal point of architectural literature in periodicals, planning and technical journals. The manufactured architectural kit, a tool for flexibility, adaptability, resilience and mobility, placed synchronized design and production along with affordability as its main selling points and became an emblem of innovative post-war dwelling schemes. Proposed by Walter Gropius in his infamous manifesto (1909) and developed later with Konrad Wachsmann as the packaged house, the kit of parts ideology infiltrated architecture’s production. The manufactured kit symbolized a new era and would bring quality architecture to the masses. Along with a look back at its evolution, three significant productions showcase the kit as both medium and message for developing a Post-War dwelling: Arts and Architecture’s Case Study House Program and its influence in California and beyond, Buckminster Fuller’s Standard of Living Package and plastic shell construction for the House of the Future, not only portray the evolution of modernity through post-war American domesticity but also express the underlying theme of how kit architecture would realize the longstanding dream of the factory made house and even make a case for a kit of parts urbanism in the latter half of the twentieth century.
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