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Corrugate | Material


Corrugate refers to the cladding of interior surfaces with corrugated sheet material. A range of materials come in a corrugated form, but metal and fiberglass are typically selected. Corrugated sheet metal may cause interiors to feel industrial, because the consistent, perfectly symmetrical ribs recall the mechanical rolling process responsible for its making and because the material is used extensively for prefabricated structures. The reuse of shipping containers has also introduced corrugated surfaces to the interior.

In 1941, the United States Navy commissioned George A. Fuller and Company and the Merritt-Chapman and Scott Corporation to design a prefabricated temporary shelter for troops overseas. The project called for a simple design that could be mass produced, easily fabricated, portable, durable, and relatively comfortable. Inspired by British Nissan huts constructed during World War I, the final design consisted of steel ribs clad inside and out with corrugated sheet metal. The resulting structures eventually became known as Quonset huts, in reference to their conception at the U.S. Naval Air Station in Quonset Point, Rhode Island.1

Mass produced corrugated sheet metal proved an ideal cladding material. The sheets were lightweight and stackable, which made for easy transportation. The linear corrugations increased pliability, allowing sheets to bend over arched frames without difficulty. Also, the uniform corrugations ensured snug connections between individual pieces, due to their ability to overlap.

So successful was the Quonset design that by the end of World War II, the United States government had produced about 170,000 huts.2 A postwar housing shortage prompted the development of entire Quonset communities initiated by the federal Public Housing Authority program.3 The scarcity of adequate housing coupled with the omnipresence of the Quonset hut encouraged many architects to investigate unconventional housing solutions constructed from prefabricated components.

The engineer Buckminster Fuller initiated the prefabrication trend in 1927 with his futuristic Dymaxion House. The design applied "airplane construction techniques to the housing industry."4 The prototype used industrial materials, including corrugated aluminum sheets, which together formed a kit-of-parts for easy on-site assembly. Even though steel shortages prevented the complete realization of the prototype, the Dymaxion House had a lasting impact. According to Brian Carter, "Fuller's ideas challenged the concept of a frame structure by articulating an option in which the shape of the building and the use of standardized curved corrugated metal sheets created an envelope that also served as the structure."5 Designers gained a new appreciation for industrial materials and began to explore their potential effects on architecture.

In 1945, the editor of Art and Architecture, John Entenza, commissioned a number of architects to participate in the Case Study House program. Over the next 17 years the magazine funded the construction of 36 homes by architects such as Pierre Koenig and Charles and Ray Eames.6 Case Study House No. 8 designed by Charles and Ray Eames relied almost exclusively on factory-produced components. According to Ray Eames, "It was the idea of using materials in a different way, materials that could be bought from a catalog, so that there was a continuation of the idea of mass production, so that people would not have to build stick by stick, but with material that comes ready-made off the shelf."7

The Eames's celebrated the materials by proudly displaying their industrial character. For example, pre-fabricated steel decking supported by open-webbed steel joists forms the structure of the roof. The exposed system reveals the corrugated pattern of the steel decking throughout the interior. Similarly, Pierre Koenig's Case Study House No. 21 (1958) also uses a roof of steel decking and leaves its ribbed texture exposed on the interior. This application continues to occur in contemporary design.

Recently, designers have begun creating prefabricated structures from converted shipping containers. In Prefab Modern, author Jill Herbers attributes the shipping container's rise in popularity to its low cost, availability, and adaptability.8 While many of these containers become residential units, they have entered the commercial arena as well. The architecture firm LOT-EK has emerged as a leader in the realm of prefab with its inventive uses of recycled shipping containers. For example, LOT-EK designed an unconventional gallery space for the Bohen Foundation by compartmentalizing a spacious floor plan with eight shipping containers. The containers dominate the space and their corrugated surfaces become a reoccurring texture and pattern. Their industrial presence relates well to the building's original use as a printing factory.6 Sometimes in conjunction with corrugated surfaces, designers cover floors with diamond plated sheet metal.  While the texture and pattern is quite different from corrugated sheet metal, diamond plated surfaces have a similar industrial character.

end notes

  1. 1) Chris Chiei, "How the Hut Came to Be," in Quonset Hut: Metal Living for a Modern Age, ed.  Julie Decker and Chris Chiei (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2005), 1-7.
  2. 2) Chiei, Quonset Hut: Metal Living for a Modern Age, 23.
  3. 3) Tom Vanderbilt, "After the War," in Quonset Hut: Metal Living for a Modern Age, ed.  Julie Decker and Chris Chiei (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2005), 72.
  4. 4) Allen Tate, Interior Design in the 20th Century (New York: Harper & Row, 1986), 343.
  5. 5) Brian Carter, "War, Design, and Weapons of Mass Construction," in Quonset Hut: Metal Living for a Modern Age, ed.  Julie Decker and Chris Chiei (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2005), 53-4.
  6. 6) Jill Herbers, Prefab Modern (New York: HarperCollins, 2004), 27, 146. For a selection of round and square patterns from Accurate Perferating, see
  7. 7) Evidence for the archetypical use and the chronological sequence of Corrugate as a material was developed from the following sources: 1920 Dymaxion House [1927] Buckminster Fuller in Julie Decker and Chris Chiei, eds., Quonset Hut: Metal Living for a Modern Age (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2005), 25, 46 / 1930 Glass Brick Wall, Walter Gropius House [1937] Walter Gropius; Lincoln, MA in John Pile, A History of Interior Design, 2nd ed. (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2005), 379; PhotoCrd: Esto Photographics / 1940 Eames House [1949] Charles and Ray Eames; Pacific Palisades, CA in Andrew Weaving and Lisa Freedman, Living Modern: Bringing Modernism Home (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2002), 102; PhotoCrd: Tim Street-Porter / 1950 Case Study House #21 [1958] Pierre Koenig; Hollywood Hills, CA in Weaving and Freedman, Living Modern, 68; PhotoCrd: Julius Shulman / 1970 Dining Area, Michael Hopkins House [1975] Michael Hopkins; London, England in Anne Massey, Interior Design of the 20th Century (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1990), 191; PhotoCrd: Michael Hopkins and Partners / 1980 Issey Miyake [1989] Shiro Kuramata and Toshiko Mori; New York City in Edie Lee Cohen, "Issey Miyake," Interior Design 60, no. 3 (Feb. 1989): 258; PhotoCrd: Peter Paige / 1990 New York Opera Company Office [1994] Freeman and Pizer; New York City in Mayer Rus, "Freeman and Pizer," Interior Design 65, no. 5 (Apr. 1994): 131; PhotoCrd: Arch Photo, Eduard Hueber; Grand Central Optical Store [1994] Freeman and Pizer Architect; Ann Kale Associates, Lighting Designer; New York City in Charles Linn, "No Eye-Shadow," Architectural Record 182, no. 11, Lighting Supplement (Nov. 1994): 24; PhotoCrd: Christopher Wesnofske; Lille Grand Palais Exhibition Hall [1995] Rem Koolhaas, Office for Metropolitan Architecture and F.M. Delhay-Caille, OMA; Lille, France in Clare Downey, "Euralille: Crossroads to 21st Century Europe," Architectural Record 183, no. 3 (Mar. 1995): 99; PhotoCrd: Philippe Ruault; Atrium and Staircase, Office [1998] David Ling, Architect; Cabana, NY; in Oscar Riera Ojeda, Materials: Architecture in Detail (Gloucester, MA: Rockport, 2003), 160; PhotoCrd: Paul Warchol; Click 3X Production Office [1999] Pugh and Scarpa; Los Angeles, CA In Abby Bussel, "Wizards of Oz," Interior Design 70, no. 4 (Mar. 1999): 115; PhotoCrd: Marvin Rand / 2000 John Luce Company Office [2000] Randy Brown Architects; Omaha, NE in Henry Urbach, "Sales Pitch," Interior Design 71, no. 6 (May 2000): 288; PhotoCrd: Farshid Assassi; Theatre L'Ecla [2001]; Renovation, Theatre L'Ecla [c1960]; Jakob and MacFarlane; City of Pont-Audemer; Normandy, France in Claire Downey, "Theatre L'Ecla," Architectural Record 189, no. 7 (July 2001): 122; PhotoCrd: Archipress; Nissan Ginza Gallery [2001] Akihito Fumita; Tokyo, Japan in Carolien Van Tilburg, Powershop (Basel: Frame, 2002), 86; Valentine Group [2001] MR Architecture + Décor; Chelsea, New York City in Julia Lewis, "Art and Industry," Interior Design 72, no. 3 (Mar. 2001): 152; PhotoCrd: Martyn Thompson; Prada SoHo [2003] Rem Koolhaas, New York City in Oscar Riera Ojeda, Materials: Architecture in Detail (Gloucester, MA: Rockport, 2003), 161; PhotoCrd: Paul Warchol; Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandizing [2005] Clive Wilkinson; Los Angeles, CA in Eddie Cohen, "Water Works," Interior Design 76, no. 1 (Jan. 2005): 195; PhotoCrd: Benny Chan/fotoworks; Lobby Lounge, Hotel Puerta América [2005] John Pawson; Renovation, Hotel [1945] Jean Nouvel; Madrid, Spain in David Cohn, "Overnight Sensations," Architectural Record 193, no. 9 (Sep. 2005): 102.

bibliographic citations

1) The Interior Archetypes Research and Teaching Project, Cornell University, (accessed month & date, year).

2) O'Brien, Elizabeth. “Material Archetypes: Contemporary Interior Design and Theory Study.” MA Thesis, Cornell University, 2006, 60-67.