Book Review: Quonset Hut

Quonset Hut: Metal Living for a Modern Age, edited by Julie Decker and Chris Chiei, published by Princeton Architectural Press, 2005. (Amazon)

Today the Quonset hut is more an idea than a thing. Sure one sees in their mind its unmistakable half-cylinder form and corrugated metal siding, but one also thinks of it as cheap, ugly, rugged, and temporary. And really those descriptions are not wholly inaccurate. But in this book, a companion to an exhibition now at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, the editors and authors involved focus on the positive qualities of what began as a response to military need in World War II but persevered as housing and other uses for years after the war's conclusion. That's not to say they believe the hut will experience a resurgence in this century (the editors admit that just as the Quonset was a timely response to certain needs, a new, designed response would be invented for new needs in the future), but they see more to the Quonset than just a floor, continuous wall/roof, doors and windows. Instead, they see if for what it was and has become: an easy to build, easy to modify, adaptable and personalized habitat for those on the fringe or for that can't afford more. While the book starts with a detailed history of the hut's origin and design and covers its wartime and later uses, the last ten pages of the book make the most impression: color photographs of Quonset owners aside and inside their homes, each hut completely different from each other, even though the basic shape and size is the same. It attests to how the American Dream can extend from the most unexpected places.