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Quonset Point Industrial Park (Quonset Point Naval Air Station)

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Quonset Point Naval Air Station
1939–1943 and later, Albert Kahn and others. Quonset Access Rd., Belver Ave.

In 1939 the cottage colonies and farms on the southern portion of Quidnesset Peninsula were leveled and the land was extended into the bay to form the 925-acre Quonset Point Naval Air Station. During World War II, together with the adjoining Davisville Construction Battalion Center, the base became a major center for Seabee training, equipment testing and supply, and the design and construction of prefabricated shelter for military purposes—including, most conspicuously, the Quonset hut. The navy removed its operations in 1974. Since then, the state and the town have converted the area to an industrial park and airport, but pieces of the past (steadily decreasing) linger on.

Beyond the original entrance can be seen the first of what were once fields of Quonset huts. Design of the famous prefabs began at Quonset in 1941, by designers at the base challenged to improve on the World War I British Nissen hut. During the war over 32,000 Quonset huts, designed in forty-eight variations for different military programs, were shipped from the base.

The Naval Air Station buildings (1939–1941) are by Albert Kahn, who built his design office on commissions from the Detroit automobile industry, to become the leading designer of American factories before World War II. The station's central complex consists of a grouping of enlisted men's barracks fronted by administration buildings and officers' quarters. Although the complex is unified by an underlying treatment of steel frames, screened by brick walls with bands of stock metal-framed windows, Kahn and his design team individualized the buildings by varying window groupings and by chunky entrance towers as occasional accent. He distinguished the administration building from the rest by a two-story concrete porch with decorative trellis beside an extralarge window with conspicuous framing. The whole complex shows typical late 1930s factory or institutional modernism, here well proportioned and detailed despite wartime austerity standards for construction.

At the end of Belver Avenue lies the airfield, with a row of three Kahn-designed hangars (1942–1943) for land planes. Another, for seaplanes, has been demolished. More obviously the product of rationed building materials than the administrative and living quarters, the hangars have low, spreading steel frames hung with asbestos, metal sheeting, and steel sash that steps up the shallow roof pitch for monitor lighting. Size gives monumentality; so, more specifically here, does the extended pediment-like capping of the portal front which contains the hangar doors. As with the Quidnesset Baptist Church, these hangars are architecturally interesting for the degree of monumentality attained through the severe use of banal materials. Just beyond the hangars, four windowless, polygonal, silolike towers in composition wallboard project ominously from a minimal shed. Here pilots learned celestial navigation and how to cope with cockpit emergencies.

Writing Credits

Author: 
William H. Jordy et al.
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Citation

William H. Jordy et al., "Quonset Point Industrial Park (Quonset Point Naval Air Station)", [North Kingstown, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/RI-01-NK5.

Print Source

Buildings of Rhode Island, William H. Jordy, with Ronald J. Onorato and William McKenzie Woodward. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, 356-356.

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