Quonset Hut: Otto Brandenberger for the George A. Fuller Company (1941-Present)
The Quonset hut is perhaps the most ubiquitous prefabricated structure born out of a period of war. More an evolution of another wartime typology—the British-built Nissen hut of World War I—than an architectural innovation, the Quonset hut was first built at Quonset Point, Rhode Island, one of many naval bases established by the Allied forces during World War II. The U.S. military enlisted the services of the George A. Fuller Company, on of the largest construction contractors in the United states and builders of such iconic projects as the Flatiron Building in New York and the Lincoln Memorial, to design a simple, repeatable, and inexpensive structure that could be deployed as housing across naval bases on the Atlantic seaboard and the Pacific rim. Otto Brandenberger, the only architect on staff at Fuller, led the project.
The original design, known as the T-Rib Quonset hut, was a 16-by-36-foot semicyclindrical structure with an 8-foot radius, framed with steel members and sided with corrugated steel sheets. The ends of the structure were capped with preassembled plywood faces punctured with openings for a door and windows. The interior contained insulation that was installed on-site, pressed wood lining, a tongue-and-groove floor, and crude overhead lighting running along the central spine of the ceiling. The structure cost approximately $800 ($12,000 in 2008) to build. While exceptionally affordable, the living conditions were tight and dark, and thus the Quonset hut garnered something of a dubious reputation among the general public.
By war's end, variants on the original T-Rib model were to be found all over the coastal United States. Today, Quonset huts are more frequently used as private dwellings, and adaptations have made them significantly cheerier. In certain parts of the United States, particularly Alaska, they are the most common vernacular building form. In 2006 the Quonset hut was the subject of an exhibition at the Alaska Design Form in Anchorage.
(Source: Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling by Barry Bergdoll and Peter Christensen)