Click on pictures or links to view larger [opens in new window]. Go to next case study.

British Iron and Steel Federation (BISF) Houses:

The British Iron and Steel Federation, an association of steel producers, was formed in 1934 in order to provide central planning for the industry. It was prominent in coordinating output through the War, and sponsored a solution for permanent steel framed housing to a design by architect Sir Frederick Gibberd. Gibberd's office also designed the steel framed Howard House, privately promoted by John Howard & Company. Both designs were assessed and approved for development by the Burt Committee (1944), and subsequently 36,000 BISF houses and 1,500 Howard Houses were built.

The comparison these two house types is of interest because, though the designs are from the same stable, they demonstrate different approaches to innovation and the expression of new methods. The BISF is the more conventional of the two, technically and aesthetically. The simple architectural devices of projecting window surrounds and differing cladding to the upper and lower stories deal with the junction between components in an understated fashion. Traditional materials could be incorporated or simulated, for example a brick cladding to the lower storey, or steel sheet profiled to match timber weatherboarding to the upper. The BISF house also uses tried and tested methods, with a simple over-site slab ground floor and render on metal lath cladding.

By comparison, the Howard House has a more industrial aesthetic and was more adventurous in its use of innovative technologies. Asbestos cement cladding panels are clearly expressed with metal flashings over a base course of foamed slag concrete panels, with windows and doors fitting within the module set up by the cladding. Unlike the BISF this house proudly displays its lightweight prefab nature, but there are also technical advances that set the Howard House apart, for example the pre-cast concrete perimeter plinth that supports a suspended steel ground floor.

It seems likely that the BISF house, with its more conventional proportions and solid appearance, would have appealed more directly to popular taste than the Howard, but this is not the main reason for its comparative success. The British Steel Homes company, producers of the BISF house, also benefited from the support of the British Iron and Steel Federation, which could ensure a supply of the material at a time when conventional methods were returning to profitability and steel was in demand again due to cold-war rearmament. The BISF also benefited from a guaranteed order of 30,000 given by the Government in 1941 .

Neither house, however, could endure beyond the combined effect of the reorganisation of the steel industry (including a short-lived nationalisation in 1951), and a Conservative party election pledge to build 300,000 houses, which could only be met by lowering standards and cutting costs in public housing.

BISF house BISF house, Ipswich [1]
BISF house BISF house, Ipswich [2]
BISF house Cutaway diagram of BISF steel frame
BISF house Cutaway diagram of BISF construction
h o m e  |  s i t e   m a p  |  p r o j e c t   a r e a s  |  l i n k s   a n d   c o n t a c t s  |  f e e d   b a c k