What is a Nissen Hut?
The Nissen hut was designed and patented in 1917 by Peter Nissen, a middle aged army Major. It was a prefabricated shelter made in the shape of a half cylinder. A corrugated sheet of metal formed its shell and plasterboard and concrete were used in its construction. Materials for these huts were cheap and they could be quickly assembled and ready for use. On average it took six men only four hours to assemble a Nissen hut.
But, what was designed as cheap, easily transportable, rapid-assembly accommodation for army hospitals, canteens, armaments and military personnel, lingered after the war to take on a new role as housing for thousands of immigrants to Australia in the 1950s. Nissen Huts were used to establish migrant hostels. This solved the problem of where to billet large numbers of migrants. However, the huts were unsightly and utilitarian rather than homely and the atmosphere inside them was unpleasantly hot and humid.
Imagine spending any length of time under a metal roof in typical Australian high temperatures! And the military connotations of the huts cannot have felt very welcoming to the many displaced persons uprooted from war ravaged Europe who were coming to Australia for a better life.
The Nissen hut has been called one of the top 100 inventions that shaped the modern world and is a classic case of a design that fulfilled the purpose for which it was originally envisaged but had limited suitability for its later applications. So, snappy in wartime but not such a stunner in peacetime.
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