Shelter from the storm: Designing for hazard mitigation
A shelter in Iowa reinforces not only the value of resilience but the ability to make resilient designs stand out
For millions of people around the world, natural disasters aren't just a fear; they're inevitable. Few states suffer from this reality more than Iowa, ranking sixth in the number of tornadoes from 1950 to 2004.
In Iowa's Polk County alone, 49 tornadoes have been counted over that span. The county is home to the state's capital, Des Moines, and the Iowa State Fair, which draws thousands of visitors every summer and occurs right in the middle of tornado season. Back in 1998, record winds hit the fairgrounds and caused extensive damage. In the years that followed, state officials decided a preemptive solution was needed to mitigate future weather emergencies.
As documented in AIA's recently rereleased Disaster Assistance Handbook, Tom Hurd, AIA, and his firm Spatial Designs Architects took on the challenge of designing a structure that could withstand a tornado's high winds. Funding for the project was secured through a grant from FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, which covered 75 percent of costs.
Spatial Designs Architects worked with the Iowa Emergency Management Division and the College of Design at Iowa State University to design and construct the shelter to FEMA P-361 standards.
"The chances of a storm hitting that particular area are not large," Hurd says, "but that doesn't make it any less necessary. In fact, it reinforces the need to create a multi-purpose space that can be used as much as possible otherwise."
"It doesn't have to look like a concrete bomb shelter. It can look like whatever you want."- Tom Hurd, AIA
As such, the shelter was designed to withstand highly dangerous inclement weather while also offering additional showers, restrooms, offices, and a meeting room for those who frequent the fairgrounds.
"The big bandshell unit on the front," Hurd notes, "provides protection from a storm while also serving as a place for the band to sit and perform. The music bounces off the shell; it makes a nice area to sit and picnic."
"It was a really good project," he adds, "in that it showed what could be done and even became sort of a landmark. We've done a number of other shelters since then, some even without FEMA funding, just because everyone quickly saw the benefits."
Hurd's design, completed in 2002, indeed became a prototype. Its design reinforced that not all shelters need to indicate doom and gloom; the curved surfaces and its aforementioned concrete canopy stand out visually and make the idea of using it for everyday needs that much more tenable.
"It doesn't have to look like a concrete bomb shelter," Hurd says. "It can look like whatever you want; you can probably blend it in right with the neighborhood. You can really make a true multi-purpose, multi-benefit building."
Steve Cimino is the digital content manager at AIA.
Tom Hurd, AIA