BASE: Advancing a post-military landscape

Hut drawings and parts lists are from Stran Steel's erection instruction booklet for the 40' x 100' US Navy Steel Arch Rib Utility Buildings, circa 1944. The drawing at the top of the page shows how a "multiple building" hut could be extended infinitely to achieve any desired floor area.

Photo 1: This 1996 photo was taken on one of our earliest visits to Davisville. At this time Camp Endicott was still sealed off by chainlink fence. This was as close as we could get to the still extant field of Quonset huts there. By the time the fence was removed in 1999, all but one of these huts were gone.

Photo 2: Quonset hut home in Maine. One of two Quonsets added on to the back of a traditional Maine residence.

Photo 3: Building B11, the last hut from the field of huts at Camp Endicott. This building was one of a group of eight huts placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. Building B11 was demolished in 2001, shortly after this photo was taken. All traces of the huts at Camp Endicott are now gone.

Photo 4: A lone Quonset hut high up in the Yorkshire countryside in England.

Photo 5: An arcade-turned-auto repair shop with beauty salon (entrance door at right), Jackman, Maine. Front and rear elevations.

Photo 6: Highway department building in Maine.

Photo 7: This multi-building utility hut in Middlebury, CT houses the "Quonset Surplus Store," selling military surplus -- a common Quonset hut use. (photo by Kristin Carlson)

Graphics from the Stran Steel erection instructions cover, with Seabee logo.


  • "Living In a Quonset Hut Is Like Eating Spam," by Tim Clark (from Yankee Magazine).
  • Historic American Engineering Record "Quonset Point Naval Air Station" report, 1979.
  • "Recordation Report For the Naval Construction Training Center Davisville (Camp Endicott)"
        Buildings T2-8, T11, T13, and T15-19, 1979.
  • Interview with Robert McDonnell by Erica Carpenter and Erik Carlson, 1996.
  • Stran Steel erection instructions were reproduced courtesy of the Quonset Air Museum.
  • See the credits page for further information on these sources.

    All photographs are by Erik Carlson & Erica Carpenter, unless noted otherwise.

     Project description

    Quonset Point

     Admin. Triangle
     W'house Triangle
     Camp Endicott
     Camp Thomas
     Adv. Base Depot
     Adv. Base Proving
     West Davisville


    Historic images

    Quonset hut


    Our involvement with Quonset/Davisville began with an investigation into what might be called its signature product: the Quonset Hut. Asked to design a standardized portable structure that would be adaptable to many uses and climates, the design team at NAS Quonset came back with this idiosyncratic half-moon shaped structure of corrugated steel. The Quonset Hut was used in all theaters of WWII and subsequent conflicts. It quickly became an archetypal military building and an icon of military life in general.

    The Quonset Hut's predecessor was the British-designed Nissen Hut, a structure whose arched roof and upright sides required a system of cables and turnbuckles for support. In March of 1941, a design team consisting of Otto Brandenberger, Tomasino Secondino, Domenic Urgo, and Rhode Island native Robert McDonnell was assembled by the George Fuller Construction Company to improve on this design. The team settled on corrugated steel and semi-circular steel arched ribs as the best material solution to the issues of portability and adaptability. Strength was greatly increased and assembly simplified by carrying the roof arch all the way to the foundation. The Anderson Sheet Metal Co. of Providence, RI solved the technical problem of bending the corrugated sheets into a usable form (the answer lay in passing the sheets through large rollers in a process that produced "all kinds of tortured squealing" according to Robert McDonnell).

    The original Quonset Hut measured 16' x 36', and could be erected by a crew of 8 men in a single day. The hut's proportions were later modified to increase interior space, resulting in the standardized Quonset or "Steel Arch Rib Hut," a 20' x 48' building weighing 3.5 tons. An even larger variation, nicknamed the "Elephant Hut," was developed. It measured 40' x 100,' weighed 12.5 tons and was officially called the "Steel Arch Rib Building."

    In June of 1941 the Navy made its first shipment of Quonset Huts overseas. 32,253 Quonset Huts were produced at the Navy's Temporary Advance Facilities in West Davisville. The demand for huts soon surpassed West Davisville's production capabilities, so the Navy contracted the Stran-Steel division of the Great Lakes Steel Corporation to produce the structures. By the mid-1950s, 160,000 Quonset Huts had been shipped from Davisville to points all over the world.

    Stran-Steel ended production of the Quonset Hut in 1959, but the portability and adaptability of its design have extended its life and use far beyond the intentions of its designers. Over time many surplussed huts found their way into the private sector as homes and businesses. They became a familiar fixture on campuses of universities and colleges whose student ranks were swelled by the GI Bill. And though their numbers are diminishing, many original Quonset Huts are still in use today.

    When asked if he ever anticipated the long post-war life the Quonset Hut has enjoyed, McDonnell said that the members of his team never gave it a thought; "It was an ugly thing, and its purpose was not to grace the landscape."

    © Copyright 2000 Erik Carlson and Erica Carpenter     Top