By JJ Tang, LEED AP, FAIA, F.SAME, Michael Doiel, AIA, M.SAME, and Matthew Bird, P.E., PMP, M.SAME
Responsible for strategic deterrence, nuclear and electromagnetic spectrum operations, global strike, missile defense, and other critical missions, U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), located at Offutt AFB, Neb., serves as a unifying resource for national leadership to better understand specific threats around the world. Its recently completed $1.3 billion Command and Control Facility (C2F), measuring 916,000-ft², was described by Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist as “one of the most complex construction projects in our government’s history.”
Much of the complexity in the project arose from the facility being not simply a building, but a sophisticated weapon system that integrates and coordinates the necessary command and control capabilities to provide the most accurate and timely information for senior decision-makers, including the president, secretary of defense, other defense officials, and combat commanders. Designing a one-of-a-kind command center for a global strategic deterrence mission with cutting-edge technology and layers of secured spaces in a protective environment, while also promoting the architectural significance of a mega-project, was a daunting challenge indeed.
INSPIRED BY THE MISSION
Detailed programming and concept design began in 2009, with a team that ultimately grew to 250 staff. Robust collaboration involved the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Air Force Civil Engineer Center, STRATCOM leadership, and multiple stakeholder agencies.
Converting the owner’s project requirements into a basis of design was especially challenging in a need-to-know environment. Due to numerous security measures and threat mitigation factors, a matrix of authority was deployed for technical design approvals, which always resulted in a decision that met the mission and guiding principles. In effect, the project requirements inspired the design expression.
Predicated on STRATCOM’s mission sets, the C2F’s architectural design is expressed as an outcome through logical analysis of function, orientation, site topography, and the building’s contextual relationship to surroundings, all while recognizing the discourse of maintaining stringent security measures. Conflicting circumstances were ever-present and often resolved through multiple courses of action analysis.
To assist with the task of managing significant amounts of data, all room content was entered into Affinity, an electronic database that grouped various functional spaces into mission support or mission critical, based on the nature of the activities that would occur within a particular zone. Through the context of physical security and prescriptive design basis threat, the concept guided the team toward a building-within-a-building solution.
SIMPLE, BUT ELEGANT
The result of the methodical design approach is a visually simple yet elegant and straightforward architectural expression of two formidable, heavy, solid masonry bars that enclose a central, airy atrium shrouded by layers of physical security barriers. This course of action was aptly coined the “two bar” scheme.
The complex is accessed through a secured entry and ring road that serves as parking for staff visitors. Due to natural topography and consistent sloping, a landscaped earthen-backed plinth is cleverly incorporated into the site, which effectively raises the facility, is aesthetically pleasing, and meets vehicle standoff measures.
The C2F has many designated points of secure entry for staff and visitors that all lead to the atrium. A ceremonial entry plaza with commissioned sculptural displays depicting STRATCOM’s mission is located on the east end, while the west end forms outdoor breakout spaces for gardens adjacent to the food court. The ceiling references the nighttime sky with stars and satellites, again paying homage to command’s mission.
Bringing People Together. The atrium acts as both an informal and formal gathering place, as well as a primary element for orientation for the nearly 4,000 military and civilian staff and visitors. Several public function areas, such as the auditorium, conference center, and cafeteria, form the backbone of the atrium on the ground level. Vertically, all levels are connected by elevators and monumental and convenience stairs, which are integrated visual cues. Horizontally, above the main level, the “two bars” are connected by a series of walkways that transverse the atrium. This allows light to penetrate through the entire space. The atrium also serves as the “all-hands” event space and establishes a great sense of place with proportional scale for the facility.
Flexibility and Security. Flanking the north and south sides of the atrium are rectangular three-story “bars” that contain secure mission support work areas. Each “bar” is developed with multiple cores consisting of stairs, restrooms, mechanical shafts, and electrical and communications rooms. These are spaced equidistant and provide on-stage/off-stage access for security purposes. The core elements are tied together by a dedicated, single-loaded, on-stage circulation path that overlooks the atrium. The guiding principles for the workplace were to be adaptable and expandable while promoting collaboration. This served the design team well, as inherent mission set changes allowed adjustments in space assignments without appreciable impacts. A planning horizon of 10 years provided built-in capability for system expansion.
SUSTAINING THE BRAND
There is a long history of brick living quarters at Offutt AFB. During the materiality course of action discussion for the new CF2, there was a desire to brand the exterior of the facility with these traditional masonry buildings as a reference to the history and durability of the installation.
Each bar’s east and west façades contain a series of masonry vertical planes that correlate with building column grids and function as sunshades. The contrasts are obvious in the final design by way of masonry against glass, heavy versus light, warm over cold, and horizontal alongside vertical. Every exterior element serves a functional purpose. The result is a clear and modern, yet balanced, adaptation of classic and contemporary materials for this monumentally scaled facility.
The site exterior consists of sustainable features with bioswales, a sculpture plaza, flag poles, a resilience park, gardens, and space for a garden café. The changes in grade and the elevated plinth again afforded an opportunity to provide respite functions and amenities that serve as transitions for necessary stand-off requirements. Brick was applied to the hardened cooling tower structures to soften the appearance and connect this separate facility to the main building. Additionally, a porous paver system envelops the perimeter of the C2F and serves as a fire lane as well as being aesthetically pleasing.
RESILIENT AND RELIABLE
Within the C2F, mission-critical functions are primarily on lower levels. These include all the secured operations that occur or are related to the global operations center: backup facilities, data centers, communications distribution rooms, emergency generators, and mechanical cooling equipment and associated supporting infrastructure.
Enabling the Mission. The network architecture comprises a saturated fiber array with multiple levels of security. The command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence systems actually cost more than the facility and were designed concurrently. Power and cooling systems were designed with robust reliable and redundancy capabilities.
Underground components called for a complete physical and visual inspectable space surrounding the shielded portion of the global operations center. A box-within-a-box design facilitated the requirements and mitigated the issue of a water table that is higher than the occupied floors. The final solution consists of a permanent earth retention system along with a duplex pumping system that backs up any groundwater that may occur through hydrostatic pressure. This provides an annular space for utility routing, and again provides an inspectable space and serves a dual functional role that ordinarily would not be provided.
Prepared to Withstand. While pre-functional testing and enhanced commissioning were incorporated in the development plans, natural disasters were not. However, as it turns out, the new C2F has been tested by a 500-year flood from the adjacent Missouri River, which severely impacted parts of Offutt AFB, and an EF-1 tornado.
While the building sustained some minor roof damage from the tornado, no failures occurred in systems or building performance. The overall approach to mitigating these threats brings solace to the occupants that the facility will function through natural disasters. All other man-made tests and certifications were conducted and passed without incident.
AN EMBLEM OF THE NATION
Nearly 10 years after design began, the C2F launched its first successful exercise in January 2020, Global Lightning 20. As Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, USA, then U.S. Army Chief of Engineers and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, remarked during a tour of the facility: “Probably one of the most complex buildings the Corps has ever built—an amazing and very complicated facility.”
The new C2F indeed has become an emblem of the nation, equipping STRATCOM to better carry out its critical priorities of deterrence and decisive response. Through this decade-long project, it is clear that when mission informs design it becomes a powerful inspiration to create architecture with a lasting impact.
JJ Tang, LEED AP, FAIA, F.SAME, is Vice President, Director of Federal Facilities, and Michael Doiel, AIA, M.SAME, is Senior Vice President, Director of Alternative Delivery and Strategic Pursuits, HDR. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; and email@example.com.
Matthew Bird, P.E., PMP, M.SAME, is Army Program Manager, USACE Northwestern Division; firstname.lastname@example.org.
[This article first published in the November-December 2021 issue of The Military Engineer.]