The culmination of Family, Military and Civilian Skill sets have come full circle.

Recently our firm has been working on a local VA project that requires blast design consideration and additional physical security measures.  In recent years, these types of requirements were typically for design teams working abroad or overseas or on Federal Buildings here in the US.  Since the first basement bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 Americans have started to become more aware of our surroundings, these concerns of international or domestic terrorism were nothing for us to be concerned about in small town, midwestern United States.  But now times have changed.

When I watch television today or listen to the radio or heaven forbid, look at some of the things people post on Facebook, I am reminded that we need to stay positive for each other and yet still maintain and prioritize safe interactions and safe environments.  As architects this is our responsibility when it comes to the built environment and how we design spaces post COVID.  I did not truly realize this until recently, not until after the election and the mass chaos and the rioters from both sides of the aisle ensuing throughout t this past year.  I am concerned for our country and the division that has consumed us all.

In the past 8 years our office designed hospitals and spaces for our Veterans throughout the Midwest.  This is a good portion of our business model.  Almost all VA campuses are now required to comply with increased Physical Security and even build blast proof buildings.  First of all, just to clarify; we can never be completely blast proof, but we are required to resist a significant single blast from 50 ft away and or a strategically positioned smaller blast placed within a foot of a structural interior column.  For security reasons, I am choosing not to get into too much detail in this blog article.

A few things to consider when working on these kinds of requirements:

  1. Design to resist explosive threat interior and exterior.
  2. Design for probable glass failure and ease of reconstructing after the blast
  3. Threat level and standoff distance levels
  4. Prevention of progressive collapse. Alt. load path and redundancy of the system if possible
  5. Primary and secondary structure

So, the funny thing is…I realize that I know way more about different types of explosives and resistant forces than I should.  How did this happen?  Well, thanks to my Military background, being a combat engineer and a Military instructor for 23 years, I have had to deal with explosives and setting charges, or steel cutting charges or preparing target folders for blowing bridges.  We even dwign collapsing walls along roadways in south Korea to slow down the North Koreans, among other missions from my past.  My architectural background with structural classes, working with structural engineers, KIPS as a unit of label, resistant forces and deflection; I found myself in extremely familiar territory when working on this project.  Last but not least, I also had way too much fun with firecrackers, water in an ice cream pail and a Folgers can when I was younger with my cousins.  We tried to see how high we could send the Folgers can in the air.

So basically, I guess I have been preparing for this type of work my entire life, but how did we get to this point where these things are now part of our design mentality?  Let me shed some light on the subject: 

Let me start by telling you this has taken over 40 years to acquire these experiences and to finally bring them all together. 

The firecracker stuff happened annually during our Independence Day celebrations from age 12 -18.  The military experience started in 1990 and lasted until 2013.  In November of 1990 I took an oath, and I swore to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.  Little did I know at the time, that the domestic piece would be a real issue. After basic training and AIT, I spent a year in Korea in 1991-1992, where I learned from the best.  Some of my earlier mentors were Vietnam Veterans and they knew mostly what wasn’t in any training manual.   I spent almost 2 years as a light engineer with the 101st Airborne at Fort Campbell, KY.  I had a few years with the SD Army National Guard, about seven years with the ND Army National Guard and I taught courses at the Regional Training Institute in Devils Lake, ND.  I joined the Army Reserves in 2002 in Sioux Falls and got the opportunity to start training soldiers from all over the country including even more trips to Devils lake.  During the last seven years of my Military career, I was able to apply all that knowledge to individuals and units leaving for war.  Whether it was IRAQ, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay Cuba, Horn of Africa, or other places around the world, I was able to share my knowledge with others and hopefully saved a few lives in the process through positive impact training and learning how to react to Improvised Explosive Devices (IED’s) and other things that could really screw up your day. 

Well now we get to positively impact a few lives in a different manner.  This would be through designing for our US Veterans and helping build blast proof buildings, especially ones that do not feel or look like Fort Knox.  Physical, spiritual, and mental health can all be affected by how we design these spaces.

Here is a little history about a few previous reasons why this is significant to what we are doing today.  These are case studies as to why Blast Design is relevant today and so important:

1. World Trade Center Basement Bombing – Feb 26th, 1993

A truck bomb in the basement was detonated beneath the north tower in New York City.  This was carried about by a few individuals who were later convicted in 1997.  This attack was also Financed by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a name we would hear more about after 9/11/2001.

2. Oklahoma City Bombing – Timothy McVeigh – 1995

Ironically, Timothy McVeigh and I had the same job in the Army…we were both trained as Combat Engineers for the Army.  McVeigh (who was no longer in the Army) and a few others were upset with the handling of David Koresh in Waco Texas at the branch Davidian stronghold, so they decided to blow up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, OK.  McVeigh was put to death by lethal injection on June 11, 2001, just a few months prior to the Terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.

3. World Trade Center – Twin Towers September 11 2001

Most of us remember this as if it were yesterday.  This was one of three locations this day, where Al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four planes and flew them into the twin towers and the Pentagon.  The fourth plane crashed in a field outside Stony Creek Township in Pennsylvania thanks to a few patriotic passengers.

A few Strengths and weaknesses of these requirements:

Strengths –

  1. Safer environments – although in the US we are not used to being at risk compared to other countries with 3rd world issues.
  2. Additional Mass allows for quieter interior environments and better resistance.
  3. Increased awareness for security staff and staff in general, we have already seen increased security at all City, State and Federal Buildings in addition to the TSA at the airports.


  1. Additional costs – we can’t afford to build buildings to withstand an airplane impact, even though the conversation has been exhaustively had since the World trade Center attack in 2001.
  2. Thicker walls and beefy columns have Less welcoming feel at these types of facilities – they can appear and feel like Fort Knox if not done thoughtfully.
  3. When we see the additional security, we tend to have increased anxiety and this affects our mental health in a negative way

After the events of September 11, 2001, the United States became more aware of what was already happening in other places around the world. Americans are traditionally naïve when it comes to needing to be aware of these types of potential threats.

With the Current Pandemic and the Election and other situations in the world we have an Increased level of anxiety in the US.  We as architects should be trying to do our part to help ease that tension in our designs, in our approach and our daily dealings with people in general.  We need to be paying attention to the physical, spiritual, and mental environments, especially for our Veterans with PTSD.   In summary, I have been preparing for this project my entire life and I did not even know it until I started reflecting upon it and joking with the structural engineers on the project.  We used to have a Formula for steel cutting charge when using TNT explosives.  P=3/8A.  (P normally represents lbs of TNT, but for some of us, P stood for plenty).  This truly has been the perfect example and the perfect Culmination of my Architectural training, my Military Training and all of my other personal and Civilian Skills.

2 Replies to “The culmination of Family, Military and Civilian Skill sets have come full circle.”

  1. Todd;
    Looking forward to a discussion of p-waves, sequential delays and blast intentions/design. 🙂 I totally get the “more than I wanted to know” view of design requirements (in my case jails/prisons/detention genre). Co-authoring the blasting program @ Crazy Horse taught me similar skills; just a different emphasis (integrity of material LEFT after the blast & where did the removed material “land”?; shock dampening, etc.)
    Thorough “report”!!

  2. Hooah! Thanks for the wake up call, Todd. The practice of architecture gets more and more complicated. Good work!

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