By Todd Whaley, P.E., M.SAME

Since 1901, the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle Barracks, Pa., has educated the world’s top military minds and leaders, including Dwight Eisenhower, George Patton, Omar Bradley, and John Pershing.

In 1967, the school opened Root Hall, which was intended to support 200 students and 50 faculty members. However, half a century later, Root Hall had become inflexible for teaching’s modern needs. Seminar rooms were too constrained to support even small group activities, and students had to make do by occupying space in the cafeteria or the library.

A new, more modern space was required—and beyond just adding more room and flexible breakout spaces. Under directives from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Army leadership, the college was also in the process of evaluating its learning and teaching methods and shifting to a more collaborative, team-oriented environment. Any replacement for Root Hall would need to meet this new approach and have spaces that enabled students to meet as a seminar and then break into smaller groups.

In May 2018, the Baltimore District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded the design of the new General Instruction Building to the Wiley|Wilson Burns & McDonnell Joint Venture. Wiley|Wilson led the design effort, providing project management of their team, architectural, structural, mechanical, and electrical design services. Burns & McDonnell provided civil design and LEED support. Baltimore District managed the overall project and engagement with the Carlisle Barracks Garrison, the Directorate of Public Works, and leadership at the War College.


A “sage on a stage” teaching approach had long been favored at the Army War College, with a professor giving a lecture and students taking notes. This common higher education model was mirrored in Root Hall’s classroom arrangement. Offices were separated from labs and seminar spaces, creating a barrier between students and teachers.

The new facility will reflect the college’s evolving teaching style by blending the functions of offices, seminars, classrooms, and common areas. Early meetings between the design team and school decision-makers provided valuable insight into the direction of the design and prominent goals to achieve.

  • A student-centered model for a 21st century strategic education.
  • High collaboration opportunities for student-to-student, student-to-faculty, and faculty-to-faculty interaction.
  • A campus-wide approach to learning that leveraged the new building’s proximity to nearby Collins Hall, home to the Center for Strategic Leadership & Development.
  • More options in student load, seminar size, pedagogy, curriculum, technology integration, faculty and administration work-space, and general use.

The new General Instruction Building features a 600-seat auditorium; 28 seminar-style classrooms; two large group lecture rooms; broadcast and podcast studios; an Innovation Center/ Laboratory; and two general purpose classrooms.

Of the classrooms, 10 are provided with operable partitions to expand into five larger classrooms—ideal for electives and collaborative sessions when needed. Students and faculty can use several conference rooms and common spaces, including two sky-box-style meeting rooms that can be opened up to the auditorium to increase capacity and provide another venue for participation. Additionally, the building houses academic offices for 148 faculty members, department chairs, the Office of the Dean, and 31 non-teaching faculty.



Root Hall is sited along the LeTort Spring, a 9-mi long tributary of Conodoguinet Creek. The limestone under the building is highly variable with pinnacles of rock, limestone ledges, and even cavities. These site conditions presented unique foundation design challenges. The structural team, in conjunction with the architects on the projects, had to settle on a column grid early in the design process and pass those locations to the Corps of Engineers, which performed the geotechnical evaluation.

In order to maintain the design schedule, Baltimore District’s Field Exploration Unit maximized its investigation efforts by employing multiple drill rigs. A total of five rigs worked simultaneously during peak for six days per week, nine hours a day.

In total, 148 rock cores measuring 3-in diameter were drilled at each column location to identify the depths of rock and rock sockets and the location of voids. The geotechnical evaluation allowed the structural team to adjust the column locations to avoid the most troublesome subsurface areas. The resulting drilled caissons vary from 36- to 60-in in diameter, with a maximum load of 1,218-kips.

While a major culture change was evident in the building’s layout, the design team had many opportunities to make the facility a state-of-the-art institute by embracing modern technology and progressive tools for teaching. However, in keeping to a philosophy that technology is not essential to learning, only enabling, the design team focused on ways to integrate technology and make systems as future-proof as possible.

Following a “loose fit, long life” motto, the team created around the technology needs and anticipated how those might evolve over time. After providing spaces for telecom rooms, equipment racks, robust pathways, and fiberoptic cable, the design provided a strong backbone for end devices, which historically become outdated quickly and can easily be replaced. Although the technology systems are intended to serve the college for many years, the design is adaptable enough to be updated as technology evolves.

Classrooms and labs are outfitted with the ability to enhance their instructional content and distribute it as needed. The on-site broadcast studio offers students and faculty a space to record lectures and document their research, all in support of the research goals of the institution. The studio also provides an ideal setting to conduct interviews with national and international military leaders as well as a place to document guest lecturers’ speeches and presentations. These sessions can be broadcast live to anywhere in the world.

Through forward-looking and flexible design, the new General Instruction Building will enable collaboration between students and faculty and support the college’s new team-oriented teaching model. Currently, the college anticipates the facility, which will retain the name Root Hall, to be able to welcome students by fall 2023.

At the groundbreaking ceremony in June 2020, War College leadership reinforced the importance of the project’s influencing on how the school is remaining focused on its mission, while adapting for the future. Remarked then-Commandant Maj. Gen. John Kem, USA: “This is why this building is so important. It is a key to learning, a key to connections, a key to collaboration, and a key to the future leadership of the Army, the Joint Force, our international students, and our international partners.”

Todd Whaley, P.E., M.SAME, is Project Manager, Wiley|Wilson;

[This article first published in the November-December 2021 issue of The Military Engineer.]