I remember as a child traveling in the car with my parents in the direction of what are called the Foothills in Yuma, Arizona. Yuma, situated on the Colorado River on the border with California and a stone’s throw from Mexico, was only around 14,000 people at the time and surrounded by a true desert landscape. As we passed along the road toward the barren mountains to the east of Yuma, we would pass the Marine Corps Air Station where flyers from around the world would come to learn military flying. During World War II, the base was an Army flying training center. It was at this time Quonset huts were built for shelter for the troops training at the base. The huts remained there at the time of our passing by. These semicircular buildings seemed like a wonderful, exciting place to live, especially for a child enamored with their inimitable look.
The Quonset hut got its name from the place they were first manufactured, Quonset Point, at the Davisville Naval Construction Battalion Center in Davisville, Rhode Island on the east coast of the United States. The design came from a structure very familiar to those in the British Commonwealth called the Nissen Hut used during World War I and designed by Major Peter Norman Nissen. Later during World War II, the design was improved upon and became the Romney Hut in Britain and the Quonset Hut in the United States. After the war, many in Britain, the United States and elsewhere were either torn down, used for commercial or agricultural purposes or converted to housing, with housing being the smallest percentage of reuse.
The biggest advantage of the Quonset Hut and its other manifestations is the speed at which the manufactured shelter could be constructed. Six men could construct a Nissen Hut in about four hours, with a slightly longer time for the other iterations. The reason for the quick construction time results from the simplicity of the parts and how they go together. In the basic form, the Quonset Hut is made of a curved form covered in corrugated steel. To make the walls and the roof, one only need repeat placing metal panels to a curved frame.
Quonset Hut at the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Arizona
Of course, the World War consumed materials, shipping, manufacturing and man-hours. So the design of the Quonset Hut had to be one that used as few of these things as possible. For the very same reasons, the Quonset Hut today requires a lot less money to purchase than any other sort of residential structure. Much like the geodesic dome and the A-frame, since the roof and the walls compose the same architectural feature, maintenance is also reduced. Large amounts of space are easily covered with this semicircular building and the addition of doors and windows do not amount to anything close to difficulty.
Quonset Hut in Arizona
Is the Quonset hut a modern building? Actually it is a product of the mid-century and has clean lines and a basic form. It uses modern materials and modern techniques for production and construction. It does not require traditional carpentry or building methods. It lends itself to open spaces, without the fractured nature of other types of housing. Missing, however, are the extensive use of glass and the close relationship between indoors and outdoors. Yet not all modern dwellings and structures during the mid-century professed to perpetuate the two concepts. Some Organic and Brutalist architecture ignored the aesthetic of walls of glass and extended outdoor areas. Not all modern design can be defined by just an International Style such as found among the works of Mies van der Rohe, Philip Johnson or Richard Neutra.
Singleton House in Los Angeles, California by Richard Neutra 1959
So, can a Quonset hut look and feel modern? Here are some examples:
Quonset hut designed by the Charles and Ray Eames Office in 1951.
Robert Daniels House by James W. Fitzgibbon, completed in 1950. (This image was made after extensive renovations that included a new roof. The old roof was corrugated metal.)
Although technically not a Quonset hut, the Robert Daniels House was constructed using the hut frame and shows what can happen when following the basic shape. The addition of stone, leaving the frame exposed and uncovered on the side allowing large areas of glass, brought this semicircular building to a modern aesthetic.
Robert Daniels House with the corrugated metal roof.
Interior view of Robert Daniels House
Arc House in East Hampton, New York by Maziar Behrooz Architecture.
Obviously, the arc of a Quonset hut can vary in height and width creating different looks and designs. The frame can be exposed to make glass areas more available. Additions and the use of natural materials can add contrasts to the dominating semi cylindrical roof.
Office building for Tangipahoa Consolidated Gravity and Drainage District No. 1 in Tickfaw, Louisiana.
Some random examples:
As one can see, the design possibilities of a Quonset hut are enormous. The construction of a modern dwelling using the semi cylindrical form is indisputable, while at the same time avoiding the expensive, traditional building techniques and materials. Innumerable companies sell kits and materials for Quonset hut construction, which are found widely on the Internet. A little imagination and not a lot of money can put together a modern Quonset hut home.
As for the Quonset hut as a possibility for a tiny house, the idea of a scaled down version from what we have seen above should take very little mental effort:
It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out, that as a modern tiny house, the Quonset hut is easily adaptable to a modern structure as well as a small or tiny house. For those interested in a tiny house, the Quonset hut should very much be considered.