Steel Quonset Huts
‘A form that will always be with us’

Jon Kovash is a man who appreciates both form and function, and last year he set about incorporating both when building a garage for his rental property in Taos, NM. Kovash shunned the premise that his garage had to fit any of the current stereotypical suburban molds and instead chose an archetypal Americana building — the steel Quonset huts. He chronicled his reasoning for this decision as well as his experience constructing one in a yet-to-be-published article, and he also was chosen as a runner-up for his photo of the building in a contest held this fall by the company that sold it to him — SteelMaster Buildings, which is located in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Kovash begins his article by writing: “The Genesis of the Quonset project was based in my skepticism regarding the current ‘alternative’ building fads: mud walls, dirt bag walls, straw walls, tire walls, compacted trash walls, ad infinitum. My standard rap, which falls on deaf ears because it is free advice, goes something like this: You are using techniques appropriate for a third world village in an American (suburban) context. Construction estimators have long held that walls constitute only 15 percent of the cost of most houses. You are not saving money; in fact you are likely spending more money. You’re not even saving trees or concrete. All those two-foot thick walls add up to significant extra square footage, which results in bigger foundations and bigger roofs.

And what do all these PC ramblers have for roof structure? Big, thick old growth timbers and wood planks! I pray as fervently as the next hippie builder for the end of balloon framing, which is a ridiculous waste of trees, but I don’t expect the now fashionable eco castles to become the new prototype. That’s why this old wood butcher thinks more and more about concrete, cinder block, and steel. And steel brings us back to ‘Quonset’ huts.”

SteelMaster corrugated arch style steel buildings are fashioned after the buildings named after the town of Quonset Point, Rhode Island where the first manufacturing site for a Quonset was located. A Quonset hut is defined as a lightweight pre-fabricated structure made of corrugated galvanized steel or iron. In 1941, the United States Navy decided that they needed an all-purpose, lightweight building that could be shipped anywhere in the world and assembled quickly and easily to support the troops in WWII. The Quonset design was modeled closely on the World War I Nissen Hut engineered by the British. The Navy found that they were able to maximize the flexible interior space of these structures since the building was an open clear-span design. In addition, they discovered that the rounded shape of the corrugated arch is one of the strongest structures in architecture and provided the shelter they needed during the war.

In the late 1970s, SteelMaster engineered and designed a new, stronger structure based the historic designs of the Quonset hut. SteelMaster evolved the Quonset into a new structure that combines the architectural strength of the arch along with 20th century technology, which allows the buildings to be designed and engineered to handle all types of climates and conditions.

“Over the years, we continued to develop the original Quonset design and engineering to meet the same primary goal: Provide all-purpose prefabricated steel buildings and roofing structures that can be shipped anywhere in the world and can be constructed quickly and easily,” says Michelle Wickum, the director of marketing for SteelMaster Buildings. “SteelMaster buildings are engineered for life and built to meet the wind loads of their destination. They remain maintenance free for a lifetime thanks to the company’s use of Galvalume Plus Coating which offers strength, superior corrosion resistance and an attractive bright appearance that provides excellent heat reflectivity.”

For Kovash, the best attributes of the building are simple to identify. They provide “low maintenance, durability, big and unhindered interior space, and a good alternative to cutting old-growth timber,” says Kovash. “I can’t believe how solid it feels when you walk on top. I installed the building on a slab using SteelMaster’s welded steel base plates, and highly recommend those choices. I rented a large hammer drill for the bolt holes in the concrete. A rolling scaffold was indispensable for installing the arch segments. We worked the outside from extension ladder and rope.”

As for the photo of his building being selected as a runner-up in the SteelMaster fall photo contest, Kovash says, “I feel honored to make the top five — it’s obvious from the pictures by the other entrants that many people are doing creative and well crafted variations of the classic S building. Like the old Airstream campers, it’s a form that will always be with us.”

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