WWII Tiny Prefab Homes

Christine Durand is our reporter in France and just sent us this story:

Bonjour Lloyd,

Seeing the foldable home on the cover of ”Popular Mechanics magazine” (Gill’s post) reminded me of the American prefab house where my grand-parents have lived for ten years. It’s an old story but I guess it’s one of the reasons why I love tiny wooden homes!

   This story begins at the end of Word War II on the French atlantic coast. The shipbuilding port city of Saint-Nazaire was the last city to be liberated in Europe. Entirely destroyed. In 1946, like thousands of war refugees, my grandparents were allowed to come back…be relocated. At that time, the Ministry of Reconstruction tried to provide emergency housing for 2 million of homeless. A huge challenge and a historic occasion for architects of all nationalities who design a wide choice of tiny prefab houses : cheaply and quickly built, ˆeasily transportable”!

   Many of those prefabs were imported from USA, Canada, Sweden, Finland… Some of them were poorly designed and their occupants complained about chill and leak. My grand-parents didn’t complain : they were provided with one of the most liked prefab house, the ”UK 100”.

I just found some great documents about it !

The ”UK 100” was a wood and cardboard tiny house, produced by factories in USA. It was originally destined for United Kingdom and composed of a hundred sections (hence its name). Weight of the whole package : 8 tons.

   8,000 of those kits were bought by France and transported by boats to french port cities.

In Saint-Nazaire, where its use was widespread, the UK 100 was called ”baraque Américaine” (American shack). At first, people didn’t like it. They considered it too light and unsuitable for rainy countries. Bad flat roof. Too ”Californian!” But, once assembled, the UK 100 proved quite comfortable and modern.

A nice surprise : a tiny entry, a kitchen, a living room, two bedrooms…oak floor…every room separate, clear and functional…and a bathroom with a bath! A novel innovation for many persons at that time. More luxury than the Canadian or French prefabs which had no bath!

   The UK 100 was more expensive to rent but highly popular. Each one was set up on an independent parcel. ”After enduring years of hardships, that tiny bungalow was as cozy as a palace,” remembers my mother.

This short video shows how the UK 100 was transported and assembled (you can see the famous bathroom):


   In the 1950’s, Saint-Nazaire had 20 temporary areas. Hundreds of families lived in tiny prefabs among the ruins, sharing intense community life and resourcefulness. It was a unique experience. Although prefabs were designed with a ten or twenty year life span, many of them have far exceeded this and were still inhabited in the 1970’s.

Today museums and architects carry out research on them and fans’ associations try to get them out of forgetfulness and to conserve the last surviving examples. It is hard to believe but some UK 100 are still well kept and pretty!


About Lloyd Kahn

Lloyd Kahn started building his own home in the early '60s and went on to publish books showing homeowners how they could build their own homes with their own hands. He got his start in publishing by working as the shelter editor of the Whole Earth Catalog with Stewart Brand in the late '60s. He has since authored six highly-graphic books on homemade building, all of which are interrelated. The books, "The Shelter Library Of Building Books," include Shelter, Shelter II (1978), Home Work (2004), Builders of the Pacific Coast (2008), Tiny Homes (2012), and Tiny Homes on the Move (2014). Lloyd operates from Northern California studio built of recycled lumber, set in the midst of a vegetable garden, and hooked into the world via five Mac computers. You can check out videos (one with over 450,000 views) on Lloyd by doing a search on YouTube:

3 Responses to WWII Tiny Prefab Homes

  1. Wonder how many "prefab" homes have the same problem as these FEMA trailers….?
    — (See, thing is, I am wondering if FEMA will be disposing of these trailers in a Hazardous Goods Toxic Waste Disposal Manner…OR NOT? —–a person might not want to be buying cheap FEMA trailers, as they try to sell these off….)


    FEMA trailer trouble

    trailers registered unsafe levels of formaldehyde

    Centers for Disease Control announced they had found high levels of formaldehyde in trailers and urged residents to vacate them immediately

  2. Dear Christine,

    My name is Sonia, I am co-writing a book about prefabs for English Heritage. I'd like to mention to the UK100 – do you know much about them? For example, what were the parts made of exactly and how many ended up in the UK? I'd really appreciate any info you have!

    Best wishes,

    Sonia Zhuravlyova (soniazhur@gmail.com)

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