The Usability Genius of WW II Era Quonset Huts

2 minute read

Perhaps you have heard of the famous Quonset Hut used with great effect during World War 2 for military housing, storage, and general use? Think IKEA’s assemble-yourself products. Quonset Huts are the original assemble-yourself products named after a Military Base at Quonset Point, Rhode Island where they were designed and developed.

What is a Quonset Hut?

A Quonset Hut is a lightweight structure made of a half-tube of corrugated iron sheeting assembled over a supporting lightweight structure of wood with plywood end walls. It can be assembled directly on the ground, on a concrete base or on piers depending on requirements.

According to Wikipedia, these structures were developed by the US Navy in 1941 as an all-purpose, lightweight building that could be shipped anywhere and assembled without skilled labor.

The following shows a Canadian Airbase camp in Skipton-on-Swale, UK with a mixture of Quonset Huts and wooden structures. It is the base where my father was stationed while in the Royal Canadian Air Force.

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They are a brilliant example of user-friendliness. After preparing a platform of concrete or sand, soldiers could set up these structures with minimum tools, such as wrenches and screw-drivers.

A Proposed Quonset Hut User Manual

What should be included in a User Manual for a Quonset Hut? Well, here is my suggested table of contents:

  1. Military statement
  2. Introduction [purpose of this document]
  3. Legal Disclaimer [use by military personal only]
  4. Unpacking Parts Containers [instructions how to unpack the shipping container containing the Quonset Hut]
  5. Parts List [check the parts list with the contents of the shipping container]
  6. Tools Requirements [these are the tools you need to assemble the Hut]
  7. Safety Issues [be aware of these dangers during assembling]
  8. Site Preparation [general instructions about the site requirements, assuming this was done already]
  9. Assembling the Support Structure [two or more soldiers space the individual units and bolt together in place]
  10. Assembling End Walls [attach end walls to support structure]
  11. Installing Windows and Doors [install windows and doors in end walls]
  12. Attach Corrugated Sheeting on Support Structures [using bolts and nuts, attach sheeting to structure]
  13. Insulating the Quonset Hut (optional) [Add insulation bats between supporting structure and on end walls]
  14. Installing Interior Walls and Doors [if required, install interior dividing walls and doors]
  15. Installing Electricity [if required, add electrical harness through support structure]
  16. Installing Heating Equipment [if required, add heater or fans]
  17. Testing the Structure for Soundness [perform a quality control but testing soundness of walls and roof]
  18. Final Sign-Off for Occupancy [get sign-off from superior officers
  19. Providing Feedback to Base Operations [form for providing feedback to suppliers]
  20. Disassembly [quick disassembly instructions]
  21. Packing Shipping Containers [instructions to return shipping containers to suppliers]

These instructions would be amply provided with line drawings to help the solder assemble the Quonset Hut. In fact, those statements above could be all that is needed while the details would be part of the drawings.

The issue is whether drawings or statements would be most appropriate for a solder. My guess is that, like IKEA instructions, well drawn diagrams would do the trick! Besides, Military units from many countries would have to assemble these huts. Translating is expensive and time consuming. Simple headings could be quickly translated, or just left as they are and let the drawings fill in the gaps of understanding from non-English speakers.

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