Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Bent metal

click photo to enlarge
Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention, and the exigencies of war speed up innovation in a way that peace time seems unable to match.

In 1916 Major Peter Norman Nissen, a Canadian member of the British Army's 29th Company, Royal Engineers, designed a prefabricated hut made of 54 sheets of corrugated steel. These pieces of metal, of a size suitable for transport on a standard army lorry, were fixed into threes, joined together and bent into slightly more than a semi-circle, then joined to more arches to make a tunnel-like shape. With the aid of pieces of timber and floorboards they made a multi-purpose building that was easily transported and which could be erected by 6 unskilled men in four hours. So successful was this design that more than 100,000 were produced during the First World War. Yet more were built in the Second World War when the hut was revived. The U.S. Navy adapted the basic design for their Quonset hut. Examples of the Nissen hut, recycled into civilian life, still stand today serving as garages, stores, barns, etc.

The virtue of corrugating metal is that it imparts greater strength and rigidity to the material. Architects and engineers have built on, and elaborated, Nissen's basic idea over the decades, producing their own, usually more complex, versions. I came upon this new, metal-coated building in today's photograph, on an industrial estate in Spalding, Lincolnshire. Its curves and corrugations immediately caused Nissen's name to pop into my head. Slightly flashier than its progenitor, the standardized units, curved corners, and corrugated walls and roof show its lineage very clearly. Not only do Major Nissen's orginals "soldier on", but their offspring march in their footsteps!

In truth, the overall form of this building was quite boring. However, the reflective metal with its repeated straight and curved forms seemed to offer something, so I took this detail with a long lens. Incidentally, isn't it interesting how the shapes in this image give the impression that the photograph is not rectangular!

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 150mm (300mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/500
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On