IN: Inspiration

World War 1 Gets Concrete Memorial

Artist Rachel Whiteread unveiled ‘Nissen Hut’, a concrete sculpture in Yorkshire, England, to honour her national heritage.


As 2018 marks the conclusion of the centenary of World War 1, one artist’s sculpture pays tribute to this dark epoch. On 10 October 2018, British artist Rachel Whiteread unveiled Nissen Hut – an enormous monochrome sculpture made of cast concrete.Adapted from the iconic structures built during World War 1, Nissen Hut stands in Dalby Forest in Yorkshire, England, and was co-commissioned by 14-18 NOW (the UK’s arts programme dedicated to the centenary of World War 1) and the Forestry Commission of England.

The white façade of Nissen Hut is almost ghost-like, and so mirrors the sombre nature of its source material. The original Nissen hut, designed by Major Peter Norman Nissen, was used for military purposes during World War 1, in which over 700,000 British soldiers perished. Two steel walls are connected by a curved corrugated stainless-steel roof to produce a structure with considerable strength – not to mention versatility!

“They are very adaptable structures,” says Whiteread. Since their invention, Nissen huts have been used for all manner of purposes, including work camps, farm buildings and aircraft hangars; despite this, their origins in a tragic moment in history lingers on.

PPC Imaginarium

It is this tragedy which Nissen Hut, a detailed replica of the eponymous structure, mirrors with its form and choice of location. Surrounded by forest, the piece forces passers-by to reflect on its size and reason for existence. Unlike functioning Nissen huts, Whiteread’s sculpture has no entrance; passers-by can only engage with its hard white surface through forced introspection – enabled by its sheer immensity. 

“Seeing a great piece of art can take you from one place to another – it can enhance daily life, reflect our times and, in that sense, change the way you think and are,” Whiteread adds. Of Nissen huts, whose form her own art piece mimics, she explains: “I try to cast their souls.”

Whiteread’s vision of ‘great’ art is what makes Nissen Hut so perfect for the 14-18 NOW co-commission. Since 2014, the British arts programme has sought to connect people with World War 1 through extraordinary arts experiences as part of the centenary. To date, over 325 artworks have been commissioned by 14-18 NOW and received more than 30 million viewers.

PPC Imaginarium

“We firmly believe in the transformative power of the arts to bring the stories of the First World War to life,” says 14-18 NOW’s official website. “One hundred years later, today’s artists are opening up new perspectives on the present as well as the past.”

As a public feature, Nissen Hut is bound to continue serving this role for the foreseeable future. Read more here:

All images courtesy of 14-18 NOW and the forestry commission.

Related Articles