After its formation in August 1942, the 101st Airborne Division’s commander promised it would “rendezvous with destiny.” Through the following years, the Army’s sole air assault division fulfilled that prophecy over and over. As World War II raged in December 1942, the 101st led the way in the D-Day night drop prior to the Normandy invasion. The unit furthered its reputation in as many as 15 campaigns during seven years of combat in Vietnam. Today, the famous 101st continues its service in Iraq.
To support the division’s proud mission, the Army issued a challenge: Design a headquarters facility befitting the elite unit. They envisioned a building that would effectively project the division’s heritage and image to the high-level military, the thousands of annual public visitors from around the world, and the division’s soldiers and their families.
In light of the current geopolitical climate, any new facility built by the U.S. Department of Defense must meet extremely high security standards. To protect personnel safety and structural integrity, the design must meet or exceed new anti-terrorism force protection regulations (Unified Facilities Criteria [UFC] 4-010-01: DoD Minimum Anti-Terrorism Standards for Buildings). Site-specific ways of adhering to these regulations are based on a thorough, individual threat analysis by the Army’s Physical Security section, which then prescribes basic design parameters.
The final headquarters design has gone above and beyond the Army’s challenge. A sleek, one-of-a-kind structure, it will not only provide the strictest security measures, but also obscure them, using aesthetically pleasing architecture and idyllic landscaping. The V-shaped, two-level natural brick structure, built in the shape of airplane wings with an outdoor courtyard between them, avoids the stark, prison-like look some expect from a high-security military facility. Prominently placed on a grassy knoll near the main entrance to Fort Campbell, KY, the building will now house the 101st’s entire command group, whose staff members had previously been scattered throughout the base. During major incidents such as natural disasters, the facility will also serve as a regional Emergency Operations Center.
At Airborne headquarters, perimeter security encompasses two primary components: site perimeter and building perimeter. That this command center sits within Fort Campbell’s secure perimeter satisfies some, but not all, security requirements at the outset. For example, all incoming vehicles are searched at the main gate, lessening the chance of a large vehicular bomb. However, other security measures remain site-specific. Many inventive techniques unobtrusively mask the facility’s tight security features. These include setbacks, hidden bollards, drainage layout, natural barriers, and even well-placed landscaping.
Curving, concrete and natural brick walkways invite meandering throughout the grounds, which are lined with rows of manicured hedges, a throw-back to the Division’s Normandy days. Ornamental grasses, flowering trees and perennial flowers add interest in spring and fall. A three-dimensional, five-pointed star, the Army’s symbol, rises from the pavement’s surface to enhance the outdoor courtyard. Off-building terraces offer semi-secluded views into the courtyard, encouraging private reflection.
The grounds also feature a sloping, expansive lawn, an eagle statue and fountain, and other historical statues, Airborne memorials and memorabilia. Combined with contemplative areas and benches, the grounds are designed for visitors to learn about history and enjoy the outdoors.
The bucolic setting, however, belies the careful adherence to the Army Corps of Engineers’ stringent perimeter security standards. Mandatory setbacks, for instance, provide the cornerstone protective measure for this building. DoD guidelines indicate that a setback distance be provided from public roadways and parking areas to sufficiently restrict vehicular access to its buildings, thereby minimizing damage from a car or truck bomb.
Natural and man-made site barriers, including mature deciduous trees, prevent vehicles from breaching the setback. In fact, the trees were planted so their future branch canopy would not exceed the minimum setback.
Bollards provide a second line of defense. Constructed of steel and concrete-filled posts with stranded cable, one series of bollards is located along three sides of the perimeter within a new juniper hedgerow (reminiscent of English hedgerows found beyond the Normandy beaches), which completely obscures the security.
Site access restrictions also come into play at the service entry drive. The drive is equipped with an electronic ID card reader that allows access to properly identified vehicles However, should a threat develop, the drive is also outfitted with a crash-rated arm gate that forms a crash barrier. For future site threats, portable bollards can be installed that will seal off the entire headquarters site. Bollards are even used as a landscaping feature. Planners needed a way to allow pedestrian and handicap access along the pathways while discouraging vehicular penetration. The end result: a design incorporating lighted bollards 12 to 18 inches wide and four feet high. These heavily reinforced concrete and metal posts’ architectural finish, which matches the building’s exterior, makes the bollards look like upscale light posts, thus discreetly hiding their security function.
A grassy, sunken stormwater detention basin is the final highlight in this series of state-of-the-art perimeter security devices. Surrounded by attractively landscaped, hilly terrain, it appears to be a natural pond. Its steeply pitched sides, however, serve double duty as a barrier to vehicles on a suicide mission.
In addition to site perimeter security, the new regulations call for an unobstructed zone surrounding the structure. To comply with the mandate, the building’s entire exterior remains free of items such as dumpsters and landscaping.
Military guidelines required this project to attain a minimum Gold SPiRiT (Sustainable Project Rating Tool) rating. SPiRiT is a government rating system comparable to the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design system. To meet sustainable design objectives, site planners selected low-maintenance plantings, half of which are native species. Other design elements include trees and winter creeping groundcover planted on parking lot islands. This reduces the impact of radiant heat from surrounding pavement, minimizing the need to irrigate.
Of course the site also incorporates inside and outside CCTV monitoring, intrusion detection systems, and other high-tech electronic security features. But what’s significant about this design is the way Mason & Hanger engineers and architects have used a fully integrated design approach to address the functional, aesthetic, sustainable and security requirements. The casual observer sees only an attractive headquarters worthy of a proud army division. But the new 101st Airborne command center, which protects staff and visitors alike with none but the most stringent anti-terrorism requirements, stands as a literal stronghold for the tradition it represents.
Ron Smith, director of architecture and engineering for The Mason & Hanger Group, can be reached at 859-252-9980 or Ron.Smith@mhgrp.com.