The Unique Military History Of The Portable Office

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A portable office is typically a temporary structure, and this means that both assembly and disassembly times need to be as low as possible to avoid wasting time transitioning to new permanent facilities.

Because of this constant strive for efficiency, it is probably not surprising that the modern portable structure can be traced back to the military, where time is often vital to protect and secure people and resources.

This concern was something that was constantly on the mind of Lt Colonel Peter Norman Nissen, a British-Canadian-American inventor and engineer.

Whilst part of the 29th Company, Royal Engineers in the middle of the Great War, so many soldiers had joined the army through enthusiasm and conscription, the existing military barracks buildings were simply not enough, and robust temporary buildings were required to bridge the gap.

Lt Col Nissen wrangled with this problem, and needed to create a building that required as little material as possible, was inherently very portable, was prefabricated for consistency and was easy for a handful of able-bodied soldiers to set up.

The resulting creation was the Nissen hut, a unique semi-cylindrical structure that could be fit in a standard wagon the British Army used at the time, was made up almost entirely of metal frames, corrugated metal sheets and bolts to lock them in place.

The result was a highly versatile, if unusually shaped modular building that could serve as accommodation, as office space or as a recreational/mess facility depending on the needs of the unit.

It was also one where the sheets could be laid out on their curved side for added space-saving, with the frame pieces fitting elegantly in the curved side to lessen the shipping load further.

It was designed for six soldiers to set up in four hours, although the current world record is a mere 87 minutes.

Whilst the Nissen hut itself is largely a historical artefact and a wartime curiosity, it helped to directly inspire the portable modular buildings that we see in our everyday lives.

Categories: Portable Offices,
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