Military Architecture Goes Modern
The U.S. Army wanted a way to engage young soldiers on base during down time. The answer is a new high-tech concept called Warrior Zone.
By Capt. Dwyn Taylor, P.E., CEM, M.SAME, USN (Ret.)
Warrior Zone is a state-of-the-art technology center aimed at single soldiers. The debut facility is located at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, near Tacoma, Wash., and features a distinctive postmodern design that stands out from traditional military buildings. On most military bases, architecture is dominated by a neo-Georgian style. Creative design is often overlooked. For a new facility called Warrior Zone, however, the U.S. Army wanted a different look, a different feel—essentially, a whole new concept.
Warrior Zone, contracted by the U.S. Army Installation Management Command (IMCOM) G9 Division, Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) services, is intended to offer recreational opportunities for young, single soldiers that will keep them on base during their spare time. IMCOM hired Stellar, an architecture, engineering and construction firm based in Jacksonville, Fla., to design and build a Warrior Zone at JB Lewis-McChord The design has become the prototype for future Warrior Zones across the country.
“We felt it was essential to break free from the traditional military design mold and develop a unique architectural design to support the facility’s intended brand and appeal to the target end user,” according to Richard Lovelace, Divisional Vice President at Stellar. “As part of a new concept aimed at providing entertainment for single soldiers, the facility needed to attract younger soldiers and compete with off-base entertainment options.”
As IMCOM, worked to refine the concept of the Warrior Zone—in conjunction with the military’s BOSS (Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers) Division—Stellar worked to transform that concept into a functional physical space. The facility opened in January of 2012. Plans are under way to replicate the design at other bases across the country.
RETHINKING THE RECREATIONAL FACILITY
Instead of watching young, single soldiers venture off base to unwind—creating the potential for precarious safety and security concerns—the military wanted a facility that would entice them to stay on base within walking distance of their barracks. The answer? Warrior Zone, a high-tech gaming center full of entertainment options, such as 16 game stations with 55-inch high-definition monitors for Xbox and PS3 video games, computers with high-speed Internet access, more than 50 high-definition 52-inch televisions equipped with DirecTV, and 32 Alienware custom gaming computers. In addition to the high-tech features, other amenities include pool tables, a movie theater, restaurant and bar, and a 4,000-square-foot covered patio.
Military committees developed a prototype for the facility and provided it to Stellar; but through the firm’s research and creative interpretation, the prototype continued to evolve, says Adam Wyden, Design Project Manager at Stellar.
To create an entertainment concept that would resonate with today’s young soldiers, planners undertook a design charette, listening to end users and BOSS personnel. And the results were somewhat surprising. “We tried to ferret out activities that the single soldier of today would want,” Wyden points out, “and we thought that would include bowling alleys and movie theaters.. But that wasn’t really what they wanted. The activities centered more on computers, computer games and online poker.”
For instance, the military’s branding committee originally planned to include a poker gaming area, but further along in the process, Stellar learned that the target end users don’t play poker—they prefer video games or online poker. “So in the prototype there is a poker area, but not in the final design,” Wyden says. “It became more important to get more gaming stations in.”
The ability to connect with other soldiers, friends and family also was important. With Xbox and other Internet-based video games, soldiers at one Warrior Zone can compete with those at other Warrior Zone facilities, or with their best friends from back home. With facility interconnectivity, soldiers can hold gaming tournaments across geographic areas and can view games going on at other facilities.
DESIGNING A NEW CONCEPT
To meet the goals of effectively competing with off-base entertainment options and attracting single soldiers, the project needed a distinctive post-modern design that would make a unique statement and stand out from traditional military buildings. “Because there are a lot of options for entertainment these days, your competition has increased, so we had to create something that was attractive enough to at least get the single soldier to come investigate what’s going on,” Wyden says. “We had to make the building’s architecture as interesting as what’s inside to get them to walk into the door.”
Designers wanted the architecture of the building to respond to the theme of gaming: “quick changing, short attention span, always in motion,” Wyden says. “The challenge was to create an architecture that represents a sense of that movement.” They answered the challenge by utilizing a post-modern design concept that juxtaposes different geometric shapes and different building materials and building systems, Wyden says. For instance, the building’s design incorporates exposed cast concrete, concrete block systems, translucent panel systems, porcelain accent walls and metal roof systems. “The juxtaposition of these different slopes and geometries creates the sense of movement,” Wyden says.
Being on a military installation, however, also means certain structural requirements must be met. The challenge was to accomplish that sense of movement architecturally while still complying with the military’s design guide. “There is a puzzle to be worked out to satisfy the base’s architectural regulations,” according to Joe Mark, Project Manager at Stellar. At JB Lewis-McChord the area where the Warrior Zone was built includes requirements that buildings appear to be two stories high though they are not. “It was a challenge to create the look of a two-story building while still maintaining single-story functionality,” Mark says.
Other challenges included adhering to anti-terrorism requirements and hiding infrastructure and utilities, which was required by the base’s master plan. Because the building is a pedestrian destination rather than a driving destination, the appeal of the building had to be from a pedestrian level. Designers accomplished that by creating multiple focal points, such as three towers, each of which are visible from different locations in the nearby barracks and along the approach to the Warrior Zone. “From far away,” Wyden says, “elements of the building appear larger, and as you get closer, those elements become more detailed and accessible on a smaller scale.”
Because the Warrior Zone is essentially a technology center, designers had to plan for inevitable changes in technology. “We had to make the building’s interior adaptable to the ever-expanding technology that will come in the future,” Mark points out. “Part of that was establishing budgets for future technology, because if you just budget for yesterday’s technologies, the building will be outdated before you open.”
The final result “isn’t someone’s living room,” Mark continues. “It’s an industrial club.” It’s not necessarily quiet or warm; it’s appropriately buzzing with noise and incorporates various materials and colors. The building itself is active, engaging, and interesting—and as a result, it has gotten soldiers actively engaged.
DELIVERING SUCCESSFUL RESULTS
Warrior Zone opened at JB Lewis-McChord in January 2012. Instantly, it became a popular hangout with the single soldiers it was intended to entertain. And the military has been so pleased by the result that it plans to replicate the facility at bases across the country.
“It will be almost like a chain restaurant or a big-box store, in that no matter what base you’re on, when you go into the Warrior Zone, it will instantly feel familiar,” Mark says. “It’s a new concept for entertainment and a new style of architecture for the military, but the Warrior Zone will become a place that can make a soldier feel at home, wherever they are based.”
Quality of life for America’s warriors is an important, evolving matter for military leaders. Ideas like Warrior Zone that bring enjoyment and find other options for downtime typify the type of innovation that can help make a difference.