Quonset Hut


Axonometric Drawing

Plan Drawing

Top: Side elevation
Bottom: Front and Back Elevation
Steel Clip Detail

Section Drawing

Axonometric Section Drawing

 Quonset Hut Production Timeline 

 US Navy Quonset Hut: Planning for an Imminent War 

President Franklin D. Roosevelt 
Source: "FDR," accessed December 5, 2012..

          In 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt began to prepare the United States for war, and on May 17th, 1938 US Congress passes the Naval Expansion Act, dedicating 1 billion dollars to enlarge the US Navy.  The Naval board then built 25 new bases in the US and overseas.  Included in this list of new air bases, was the shore-based aviation facility at Quonset Point Rhode Island.  Construction commenced at Quonset Point on July 16th, 1940, with the project being awarded to two organizations on contract - the George A. Fuller and Company (one of the largest construction companies in North America at the time) and the Meritt-Chapman and Scott Corporation (a merger organization of three small salvage operations).   

Pamphlet from Quonset Point Naval Air Station (1945)

          During March of 1941, the Allies were entered financial crisis. By June, England would no longer be able to purchase US arms and supplies. Due to the Neutrality Act of 1939, the US could not release arms to any warring country (such was Britain at the time) unless under “cash and carry” terms.  Seeing the necessity to sustain US allies, President Roosevelt's Lend Lease Act was passed by Congress on March 11, which allowed the US to “sell, transfer title to, lend, lease or otherwise dispose of [articles of defense to] the government of any country whose defense the President deems vital to the defense of the United States”[2].  In response, Britain transferred ownership of properties at Gareloch and Stanraer, in Scotland, and Londonderry and Enniskillen, in Northern Ireland, to be used by the US as Forward Operating Bases. As labour and material resources were quickly being drained by the war effort, the US military had to quickly supply buildings to house their troops.

Early Quonset huts being erected in Northern Ireland (March 25, 1942)

          Around the same time, George A. Fuller and Co. and  Meritt-Chapman and Scott Corp. were just completing the Quonset Point base.  The Navy then extended their contract with George A. Fuller and Co. in order for them to develop and mass-produce a new prefabricated hut system to shelter troops abroad that would be portable, quickly and easily assembled and dissembled, adaptable to any climate and geography, and provide the highest possible level of comfort and protection.  Quonset Point was selected as the assembly port for all supplies and materials required for the construction of these bases, and the actual factory production work was to take place on 85 acres of land purchased at West Davisville.  A railroad spur linked these two sites, and this allowed raw materials to arrive at the factory site (not interrupting the base activities), and then the completed units were shipped by rail to the pier, and via barge overseas.  The Temporary Aviation Facilities (TAF) project, now estimated at $20.5 million, was officially set in motion, with the first shipment of huts and supplies to be ready by June 1[3].

Factory at West Davisville (1942)

          While the factory was being completed, George A. Fuller and Co. began working on the hut design.  The only licensed architect on the team, Otto Brandenberger, was selected to be the project manager. A final set of construction drawings was submitted by Brandenberger’s team on May 15, 1941.  On June 11, 1941, a total of 450,000 cubic yards of materials and supplies, worth approximately $1.2 million[4], was prepared for loading. In less than one month, George A. Fuller and Co. had created a fully operational, mass-production facility generating huts on a scale that represented an annual output of $22 million per year.  All of this was up and running, long before the US officially entered WWII on January 8, 1942, and at the war's end, an estimated 150 000 Quonset huts had been built throughout the United States, and around the world.


[1] Julie Decker and Chris Chiei, Metal Living for a Modern Age. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 
Photo Sources:  2005.
[2] Decker and Chiei.
[3] Decker and Chiei.

Wikipedia, s.v. "FDR," accessed December 5, 2012. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:FDR_in_1933.jpg.


 T-Rib Quonset (1941) [3]

           Simple to manufacture and easy to assemble, the US Navy Quonset hut is an easily recognizable architectural form, synonymous with American ingenuity and industry.  The building was designed in 1941, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt had the United States preparing for the possibility of war.  The Navy had approached the George A. Fuller Company to design a prefabricated, portable structure that could be easily and economically produced and shipped in pieces to faraway military outposts.

           The Navy had instructed Brandenberger, and his team of engineers at the Quonset Point Naval Air Station in Rhode Island, to comply with only two conditions.  First, the new huts had to be arch shaped, for strength and deflection of shell fragments, and second, the structure must be of simple form (open to serve a variety of purposes), with the ability to for it to be quickly assembled by untrained personnel.


Nissen hut's corrugated metal panelling system (air cavity insulation only)  [2]

              Brandenberger's team was directed to use, as precedent, the Nissen hut (which itself was loosely based on the Iroquois longhouse), developed by British Major Peter Nissen during WWI.  The open interior was meant to provide optimal flexibility, being used for offices, barracks and sleeping quarters.  The original T-Rib Quonset hut followed Nissen's designs very closely, both having 16 ft diameters with identical steel arched frames.  The principle difference was within the wall systems, as when the team of engineers first analyzed the Nissen hut, a common complaint was the lack of proper insulation which left the huts, too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer. To overcome this design flaw, Brandenberger's team proposed a thin, lightweight pressed-wood lining of 3/16-inch Masonite held to the rib flange with a attachment clip, and then over- laid with a one-inch-thick layer of wading paper insulation.  This insulating system was then covered with an exterior of corrugated metal panels mounted on wood purlins.  The Nissen had a more complicated corrugated metal paneling system (both interior and exterior), which relied solely on the air cavity between panels for its thermal barrier [3].  Thus, the T-Rib Quonset huts provided the US troops with a greater level of comfort.

 More effectively insulated Quonset huts being used at Cold Bay, Alaska (1942)[4]

              3 months after initiating the design, the US Military now possessed a new demountable structure that could be shipped in 12 crates and put up in one day by ten labourers who required no special training or skills. At the end of 1941, the Quonset huts were given a field test that proved their success in winter use, as 8 200 T-Rib Quonset huts were shipped to Iceland.  According to George A. Fuller Co.: "A night gale of hurricane proportion that wrecked shipping in the harbour.... ripped the covering off of many British Nissen huts, left the Quonset huts practically undamaged" [3].


[1] Group 2, "The Castrum and the Quonset Hut." Blogger.com, accessed November 1, 2012. http://castrumandquo   
[2] "World In Conflict: WWII Memories." East Riding of Yorkshire Council, accessed December 5, 2012. http://www.eriding.net/worldinconflict/glossary.shtml.
[3] "The Huts." Quonset.org, accessed December 1, 2012. http://www.quonsethuts.org/huts/index.htm.
[4] Julie Decker and Chris Chiei, Metal Living for a Modern Age. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 


          Quonset huts share a common background with Roman high style, vernacular curved-roof, and rectangular plan structures[1]. The arch is the most basic and essential structural component of the Quonset hut. The arch allows the hut to be elongated for long distances and maximizes the volume underneath the arches using a barrel vault system, a masonry canopy of semi cylindrical cross sections supported by parallel walls[2]. Another way that these barrel roofs were formed was using complex system of purlins and rafters to form a semi cylindrical shape—the bow-string truss[3].

Example of barrel vault system in Tournus, France
Source: " Abbaye Saint-Philibert, Tournus," Sacred Destinations , Accessed Dec 12, 2012

Bowstring truss 

[1] Thomas, Adam . "Soldiers of the Sword, Soldiers of the Ploughshare." Quonset Huts in the Fort Collins Urban Growth Area. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2012. .
[2] "Soldiers of the Sword, Soldiers of the Ploughshare." 
[3] "Soldiers of the Sword, Soldiers of the Ploughshare." 


          According to an instruction manual I found by the U.S. Naval Civil Engineering laboratory, the 40’ x 100’ Utility Quonset hut could be assembled by 10 men in 323 hours[1].  The assembly was divided into four sections: ribs and purlins, end wall framing, roof sheeting, and building flashing, each requiring 68, 93, 157, and 5 man-hours respectively[2].  Although this is the manual to instruct a larger version of the standard Quonset hut, the principle is the same for the assembly of all types of Quonset huts.

          The ribs and purlins are first assembled on the ground, and then hoisted to the foundation by a manila rope chocker attached to the crown of the rib[3]. The rib is guided into place and attached onto the foundation by anchor bolts. Purlins are then bolted to the ribs to stabilize the frame laterally.

          The endwall frames are similar to the body of the Quonset hut, with ribs and girt that are fastened by studs. Cover sheets and door leaves are attached to the endwall frames[4].  The cover sheets are placed horizontally and self-tapping metal screws are used to secure the sheets to the structural frame. Then 3’x7’ walk-in doors and 2’x9” windows are installed.

          Roof sheeting is used to cover the main body frame. The sheeting is placed, caulked and fastened. Lap joints in the sheeting are caulked by hand-operated mastic guns and stitched with self-tapping metal screws[5]Finally, steel flashings are installed in the junctions between the endwalls and roof, and in the openings around the windows and walk-in doors. Prefabricated flashing was provided, and was field-cut to fit.

          The layout of the Quonset camps are determined by the planning instructions provided to the Seabees. A slight rearrangement of the plan is permissible, however the huts must remain scattered at a distance to prevent more than one possible hit in a single pass of a plane. Further protection from air raids is achieved through banking earth over part of the shelter. The covering should be about 3 ½ feet above floor level and sloped back 15 degrees[6]. Through this, the occupants of the Quonset hut are protected against the effects of bursts at a distance.  

          Modifications to the assembly of the Quonset hut may be made based on its geographical location.  In tropical regions, it may be desirable to omit the embankments and support the hut on blocks to permit circulation of air beneath the hut, prevent flooding, and reduce termite damage[7]. Water collecting troughs, overhangs created by insert bulkheads were also added while the oil heater and vent stack were replaced by a third ventilator.  In colder climates, heat loss and dampness can be prevented by layering the floor panels with tarred paper during or after construction of the hut[8]. In addition, residual framing lumber was used to create a separate entry to trap the cold air, and prevent it from entering the hut.  

[1] U.S. Naval Civil Engineering Laboratory, Evaluation of 40- by 100- foot Arch-Rib Utility Building, (California, Port Hueneme, 1963)
[2] U.S. Naval Civil Engineering Laboratory
[3] U.S. Naval Civil Engineering Laboratory
[4] U.S. Naval Civil Engineering Laboratory
[5] U.S. Naval Civil Engineering Laboratory
[6] Chris Chiei, How the Hut Came to Be, (NJ, Princeton Architecture Press, 2005), 14
[7] Chiei, 14
[8] Chiei, 14


          As mentioned before, the principle for building all types of Quonset huts are the same. However, some Seabee Battalions created their variation of assembling and transporting for the sake of efficiency. 

          The 90th Battalion at Iwo Jima, for example, developed a time-saving method of pouring concrete slabs at one location and erecting the hut frames at another. After the frame was erected, the Seabees hand carried the huts to the dried foundation[1].

          In Alaska, civilian contractors who were more familiar with the local climate, landscape and traditions developed sled systems to help transport fully erected Quonset huts to remote locations. Sled runner were bolted to the floors of the Quonset huts and created mobile camps nicknamed “Wannigans[2]

          On dry land, similar methods like the “Wannigans” were used. Rather than sled runners, steel semi-trailer systems built using stock steel components and wheels from heavy equipment vehicles were used to relocate Quonset huts from Camp Deluz, California. 20-B cranes were used to lift the entire hut and secured to the trailer that was pulled by a KR-10 tracker at 25mph to its new location[3].

[1] Chris Chiei, How the Hut Came to Be, (NJ, Princeton Architecture Press, 2005), 27
[2] Chiei, 27
[3] Chiei, 27


Excerpts from Iceland (OSS World War II Intelligence Report) pt1-2 1942 Office of Strategic Services.


Stran-Steel Advertisement, 1944
Source: Vanderbilt, 67

Stran-Steel Advertisement, 1943  
Source: Vanderbilt 67

          As early as 1943, the Stran-Steel Company began positing potential roles of Quonset Hut after the war. Advertisements during the wartime portrayed a post war society of modern, and Quonset-like, architecture[1].

Aerial perspective drawing of Camp Parks Chapel and Library, Dublin, CA (1945)
Source: Carter 55

Camp Parks Chapel and Library, Dublin, CA (1945)
Source: Carter 55

          During the war, Quonset Huts were modified for domestic and spiritual purposes. In 1944, a Seabee by the name of Bruce Goff was asked to renovate a Quonset Hut into a chapel at Camp Parks (near San Francisco). The Camp Parks Chapel was made by connecting two “elephant” Quonset Huts with a masonry wall that intersected main vaulted spaces[2].

Ardell Hagen bought a gigantic barrel that housed a hamburger stand and converted it into a two-story home for his family, 1946
Source: Vanderbilt 70

          When the war ended, it brought about a housing shortage in the US, as 12 million men turned from the battlefield towards private life. In addition, wartime marriage, rural to urban migrations, and a population boom of 8 million people in 5 years also contributed to the problem[3]. Even if 1.2 million permanent homes were to be built every year in the U.S, it would still be 10 years before everyone was housed[4]. Housing was so scarce that veterans and their family were forced into unconventional homes, such as a renovated barrel-shpaed burger stand, a beer-van-turned-apartment, and even a renovated mortuary[6].

Display model of a Quonset house erected by the Great Lakes Steel Corporation in Mansfiled, OH (1946)
Source: Vanderbilt

Spread from "A Home from a Quonset Hut," House Beautiful (Sept 1945)
Source:  Vanderbilt 78-79

          Quonset Huts were sold by the Stran-Steel company for $873. The buyer would receive the kit and framing of a 20’ x 40’ hut that would provide shelter for 30 barracks during the war, but was converted into three apartments; 2 bedrooms, a kitchen, a living room, and a bath. However, the buyer had to erect and insulate the hut himself[5].

Row of Quonset homes at Rodger Young Village, (1945)
Source: Vanderbilt 72

Directions to Rodger Young Village

          In April 1946, construction began for the first and largest temporary veterans’ housing project, the Rodger Young Village. On 112 acres of former National Guard Airstrip land in Griffith Park, 750 Quonset Huts were erected.

Student housing at Yale University, New Haven, CT (1945)
Source: Vanderbilt 87

Veterans Village on the CSU Campus (1953)
Source: Soldiers of the Ploughshare 

          A shortage of student housing was also a problem on college campuses across the United States. Quonset Huts were used as temporary classrooms and student housing, to help house the dramatic increase in veteran enrolment after the G.I. Bill was introduced [7].  At the Colorado State University (CSU), half and full Quonset Huts were erected at the Veterans Village on campus to accommodate the increasing number of veteran students.

[1] Brian Carter,  War, designs and Weapons of Mass Construction (NY, Princeton Architecture Press, 2005) 51
[2] Carter  57
[3] Tom Vanderbilt, After the War: Quonset huts and their integration into Daily American Life (NY, Princeton Architecture Press, 2005) 68
[4] Hartley E. Howe, Stop Gap Housing  (New York, Popular Science Publishing, March 1946) 67
[5] Howe 68
[6] Vanderbilt 67
[7] Vanderbilt 86


Tinian Island, 1945

         Tinian is a small group of islands in the Philipine Sea. The largest island saw the Seabee's greatest accomplishment and biggest construction project of the war. It’s close proximity to the Japanese mainland made it an important strategic strip of land during World War Two. For nine months in 1945 Tinian saw the most air traffic than any other airport in the world. Before it was in American hands, the Japanese used it as an airbase as well. In 1944 the American’s seized the island in the Battle of Tinian. There were large casualties on both sides with the Japanese sustaining the largest number; over eight thousand. It was a must win for both sides, the Americans would gain control of an important piece of land and if the Japanese lost they would give the Americans access to bombing the Japanese mainland. 

Marines coming ashore 

          Upon taking control of the island,  the Seabees of the 135th United States Naval Construction Battalion set about converting the available land to accomodate the 58th Bombardment Wing along with it's 40 000 support personnel and 50 000 marines. The Japanese had originally constructed two parallel runways on the west side of the island. The Seabees added two additional runways and the airfield became known as West Field. To the north, four more runways were constructed to house and launch the new long range B-29 bomber, which would be bombing the mainland. These four runways were 2600 meters, and incredibly they were constructed in less than a year. The runways themselves were built out of crushed coral, a readily available resource.

Seabees crushing coral for one of the runways

Map of Tinian 

          The Quonset Hut was used extensively on the island. They were a perfect building for the Seabees, as they were easy to transport and to construct. The Quonset Huts were grouped together into mini-cities of barracks, armories, airplane maintenance sheds, messes, chapels and hospitals. The Seabees copied the street organization of Manhattan Island and named the roads on the island after New York City streets. Land was also converted for farming to feed the tens of thousands of men and women that would be living on the island. The island became a self-sufficient community. On top of the need to have a high efficiency base layout, the Seabees had to accommodate nearly one thousand B-29s. Taxiways and hardstands were laid out effectively; so effectively in fact that more missions were flown out of Tinian than any other airfield during the war. 

Quonset Hut customized by marines

Sketch of Tinian Island command complex, comprised of Quonset Huts

West Field

Tinian today


‘Tinian’. Global Security. Accessed December 7, 2012. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/tinian.htm

‘The Use of Tinian Island During World War Two’. Accessed December 7, 2012. http://web.mst.edu/~rogersda/umrcourses/ge342/Tinian%20Island.pdf

‘A Seabee’s Story (Tinian Island)’. Americans in Wartime Musem. Accessed December 7, 2012. http://www.nmaw.org/a-seabees-story-tinian-island/

History of the Seabees’. Naval History and Heritage Command. Accessed December 7, 2012. http://www.seabee.navy.mil


          Finally a movie with an actual Quonset Hut in it. There is even a motivational speech given in one by none other than Gregory Peck. What could be better? All nerdy crushes aside, this is an interior of a period Quonset Hut. It's a good depiction of what Quonset Huts would have been used for at airforce installations in WWII; a multipurpose building for planning sessions and mission briefs with the crews.


Although Quonset huts were primarily used during WWII, they were also present during the Vietnam war.  The following are some pictures and personal accounts.  

An aerial view of the Naval Support Activity (NSA) Danang, 1966 
Source. Herman 156

The OR Quonset Hut at 7th Surgical Hospital, Cu Chi, 
 7th Surgical Hospital (MA) Vietnam, taken by Dr. Neill Baker

"The photo was taken prior to the construction of sand bag walls around the Quonset Hut. The mud shows what problems we faced in construction of the hospital. We used this door to take patients from pre-op to surgery and to take patients from surgery to post-op. This was considered the rear of the OR Quonset Hut. We had to build sand bag walls around the Quonset Hut before we were allowed to receive patients."
Source: Lt Col Neill H Baker, Army Medical Corp, Vietnam 1966-67

The OR Quonset Hut at 7th Surgical Hospital interior, Cu Chi, 1966
Source:  7th Surgical Hospital (MA) Vietnam, taken by Dr. Neill Baker

Sandbagging the OR Quonset Hut 7th Surgical Hospital, CuChi, Vietnam August,1966
Source:  7th Surgical Hospital (MA) Vietnam, taken by Don Elsom

Abandoned Hospital Complex, Pleiku, Vietnam; 1971
Source: Joel Dinda 

Abandoned Hospital Complex, Pleiku, Vietnam; 1971
Source: Joel Dinda 
"When I arrived in Pleiku, about half the buildings in the hospital complex had been abandoned, and most of the others housed the officers and staff of the 146th Signal Company. "
Source: Joel Dinda

Seabee Team 0809 erecting the Quonset tool storage area at the equipment compound, Can Tho, Vietnam, April 1968
Source: US Navy Seabee Museum

Company picnic volleyball game, Saigon, Feb 1967
Source: Daniel P. Cotts 101st Radio Research Company 1966-`68

Seabees erecting Quonset Hut, Chu Lai, Vietnam, April 25, 1966
Source: US Navy Seabee Museum

"About halfway through my tour at Chu Lai, we moved into air-conditioned Quonset huts, with cement floors, sandbagged head-high, inside and out. We still called them hooches" 
Source: Dave Hunter, US Naval Academy Class of 1965. 

Officer's "Hooch", Chu Lai, 1967-68

Hooch, Chu Lai,  July 17, 1970
Source: Vietnam from the backseat of a fighter-bomber 

"OPs quonset hut left, Supply quonset hut right. Admin quonset out of picture to left. Supply room destroyed by 122mm rocket in Spring 68"
Source: Daniel P. Cotts 101st Radio Research Company 1966-`68

 Latrine, Company A, 52nd Sig. Can Tho Airfield, 1969-70.
Source: Riley Cook & James Barron 

Dan Sweeney and friend,  Can Tho Airfield, 1967-68,
Source: Dan Sweeney

friend of Dan Sweeney,  Can Tho Airfield, 1967-68,
Source: Dan Sweeney


Jan K Herman, Navy medicine in Vietnam: Oral histories from Dien Bien Phu to the fall of Saigon, (North Carolina, McFarland and Co., 2009) 156

"Vietnam from the backseat of a fighter-bomber," accessed Dec 10, 2012

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