Instant House

A blog tribute to the manufactured, mass-produced, modular and kit homes that grace the American landscape.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Aluminaire House

The Aluminaire House Today
The Aluminaire House:  The First Attempt at a Metal House  
Americans do not like metal houses.  For some reason, we just prefer our wood and brick.  I think it's something about the timelessness of materials that have been in use for thousands of years.  Of course I've already posted on the post-WWII metal house, the Lustron, but there was a predecessor:  The Aluminaire House.  In 1930, aluminum was the new miracle material.  Lightweight, very strong, resistant to rust--it was everything that we were looking for.  In 1931, Lawrence Kocher and Albert Frey designed a prefabricated home of aluminum and lightweight steel to be erected for the Allied Arts Exhibition in New York City.  The idea was to eventually mass produce the house, at an estimated cost of $3200 total...if more than 10,000 of them were ordered.  Kocher and Frey had grand plans, and envisioned the Aluminaire's use in various configurations--rowhomes, single-family homes, "terraced" row homes, etc.

The Aluminaire House at the Allied Arts Exhibition in 1931
The Prototype:  The First and Last  
The original house components were fabricated by a few different companies:  Westinghouse, McClintic-Marshall, Bethlehem Steel, and Pittsburgh Plate Glass.  The materials were donated for the project.  The house was erected in less than 10 days.  The design reflects a very modernist style, and is regarded as one of the first International Style buildings to be built in the US.  The house is actually quite small--technically only a one-bedroom (though the third floor library could be used as a second bedroom), the house reflects a compact, efficient style of design--see the plans below.  The intention of the architects was that most (or all) of the furniture would be built-in, also of aluminum and steel.  When the Allied Arts Exhibition closed, the Aluminaire House was sold to Wallace K. Harrison (an architect), and was six hours.  The house was erected on Harrison's estate on Long Island, but it took longer than expected.  A rainstorm washed off the chalk markings on the pieces of the house, which resulted in a lot of confusion when trying to reassemble the house.

The Aluminaire House after reconstruction on Long Island
The Aluminaire Lives On  
The house was moved once more.  It then faded into the American landscape and rusted away on Long Island until 1986, when a permit was requested for its demolition.  The house was then purchased, disassembled, and relocated onto the campus of the New York Institute of Technology in Central Islip, Long Island, NY.  The house remains a part of their campus, though not much fanfare is made about it.  The house is on the National Register of Historic places.  For those of us at Instant House, it remains another folly of the mass-produced house:  a great idea which never came to be.

1st Floor Plan

2nd Floor Plan

3rd Floor Plan
An illustration from the August, 1931 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine.

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