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Hinman Pulse

May 11, 2011

The Dream Killer

by Hinman Team

What do you envision when you think of a remarkable building?  The ideal for many would include large expanses of elegant, glazed curtain walls, soaring atria, graceful long spans, and invitingly landscaped plazas.  All of these features can contribute to a building that is as inspiring as it is functional, which I believe is the aspiration of all design teams when they embark on a building project.  Unfortunately, there are obstacles that get in the way.  Tight budgets, short schedules, even the laws of physics work to conspire against the dreams that are borne out of the very human drive for magnificence.  Often, as the blast consultant, we are lumped within that list of obstacles.  In fact, a client once referred to us, jokingly, as "dream killers".  While the comment was light hearted, it was a motivation for us to look for opportunities to avoid being that obstacle.

It is true that the requirements of anti-terrorism design often run counter to the common ideal for aesthetics and beauty.  The perfect blast resistant structure would be low to, if not buried in, the ground, with thick concrete walls and no windows.  This perfect structure would be further protected by a perimeter ring of huge bollards to keep vehicle threats at bay.  In reality, few people would relish the thought of working or living day in and day out in such a bunker.  Fortunately, there are protective design elements that can be incorporated into a project which serve to enhance, rather than detract from its appeal.  An open expanse of green or a pond can provide natural beauty, while also serving as an effective means to provide standoff.  With a little augmentation, a line of planters and benches can double as an anti-ram barrier.  Such elements provide an inviting landscape, while increasing the distance between the threat and the structure, translating into a reduction of blast loads.  The design team can take advantage of these reductions, incorporating elements such as large curtain walls that bring light and add interest to the structure.  If a large standoff is not possible, decorative architectural elements, such as patterned metal screens, can add allure to the façade without compromising blast integrity. 

The blast consultant can face a particular challenge when dealing with historic buildings.  Often, these structures are constructed of relatively brittle materials with little available to provide support or anchorage with the ability to resist blast loads.  It is easy, and sometimes appropriate, to add substantial structural elements for support.  Alternatively, recent innovations, such as cable catchment systems and energy absorbing window frames, can be leveraged to provide equivalent protection while minimizing the need for obtrusive anchorage systems.  This, in turn, minimizes the impact of blast protection on the historic character of the building.

I would never claim that all blast requirements can be incorporated with no impact to the design of the building.  I do believe, however, that with collaboration and creativity, elegant solutions that meet the need for protection of personnel and equipment can be woven into the design.  Rather than being the dream killer, Hinman can join with the rest of the design team as dream weavers, contributing to the promise of the built environment.

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