The Story Behind Detroit’s Quonset Hut Community ‘True North’

If you’re an architecture aficionado, you’ve probably heard of the “True North” development in Detroit, Michigan.

But if you’re unfamiliar, True North is an award-winning real estate project in the Core City neighborhood of Detroit made from eight SteelMaster Quonset huts.

The project is the brainchild of Philip Kafka of the company Prince Concepts. Kafka recently revealed how his idea came to fruition to Sven Gustafson and Jer Staes on the “Daily Detroit” podcast.

“I needed to develop a project that was gonna be exciting and created some sort of value, as opposed to just building real estate. And that’s how I arrived at the Quonset huts,” Kafka said.

Kafka says he first saw a picture of a Quonset hut in a book about World War II.

“I was reading an article about the American army and the bases they set up outside of Berlin in WWII and I saw a picture of an Army base made of Quonset huts,” he said.

From there, the gears in his mind started to turn and the idea to create a village from Quonset huts started to come to life.

“I started to research the actual product just based on that whim, and I found out there’s a company called SteelMaster that makes Quonset huts.” Kafka told Daily Detroit. “I started to research them. My premonition was correct, which is [Quonset huts] are inexpensive to build and they can be put up quickly.”

The developer, originally from Texas, says because SteelMaster’s Quonset huts are so cost-effective, he was able to put extra details into the design of True North to make the community an inspiring place to be.

“I could get elaborate with the way the product looked,” he said. “I was able to give people 20-foot-high ceilings. I was able to give them an entire wall, or two walls, of natural light that floods into the space.”

Kafka says one of the reasons he chose Detroit as the location for this landmark project was because the residents are more accepting to out-of-the-box ideas.

“Detroit is a city of ideas. You can go out into a bonkers direction in Detroit and people are open minded enough to listen because that’s what’s always happened here.”

Now, Prince Concepts is working on their second Quonset hut development, The Caterpillar. The Caterpillar will have six special residential units and two live/work units in one large 46’ x 192’ SteelMaster Q-Model hut.

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