Yankee Portables by Marcel Breuer (1942)

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In the early 1940s Marcel Breuer returned his attention from site-built houses to prefabricated housing. Breuer had studied projects for prefabrication at the Bauhaus in the 1920s, and now the vitality of mass production in the United States in the 1940s encouraged him to explore its applicability to American timber construction.

He sought to create an "American" minimum home that took its cue from the production lines of Henry Ford and the automotive industry, in this case using wood. The result was a "de-mountable," one-story wood-frame house that could sit on a site-poured concrete pylon foundation. The house could be realized in different sizes depending on the number of bedrooms the client would choose: one, two, or three, with living, dining, and kitchen spaces remaining relatively fixed from plan to plan. Interiors were to be finished with plywood and specially designed sliding window-screen units. One of the most remarkable elements of this modest house was an elastic wall joint that afforded a substantial tolerance of potential imperfections within the prefabricated elements comprising the structure.

Breuer went so far as to make arrangements with a manufacturer as well as a contractor to assemble the elements in anticipation of potential interest from the United States National Housing Agency, which was initiating major efforts to deploy prefabricated homes across the country. Although it remained unbuilt, Breuer's proposal for defense workers' housing in Wethersfield, Connecticut, also for the National Housing Agency, was a reissue of the Yankee Portables with the notable stylistic change of a butterfly roof, which, as Isabelle Hyman points out in Marcel Breuer, Architect (2001), made the latter proposal significantly more expensive. Initially dubbed the "Nomadic Nest," the name Yankee Portables reveals Breuer's interest in the New England "Yankee" traditions celebrated by Sigfried Giedion in his influential Space, Time and Architecture (1941).

(Source: Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling by Barry Bergdoll and Peter Christensen)

 

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