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Posted 2/7/2013

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By Tanya King
Seattle District Public Affairs

Architects from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Seattle District, considered more than bricks and mortar when they designed the Jackson Avenue Barracks at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., and it’s had a big impact on the residents.

Though they won the 2008 Chief of Engineers Design and Environmental Honor and USACE Design Team of the Year awards for the concept, awards were not their focus.

“Enhancing the quality of life for unmarried Soldiers was a top concern for us,” said Bruce Hale, lead architect for the barracks, which first housed residents in 2008.

“Any time service members have a quality living environment, it better enables them to focus on the mission,” said Greta Powell, JBLM chief of Residential Communities Division. “The Army has invested significant resources to replace aging facilities to ensure single and unaccompanied personnel have a quality of life commensurate with their service.”

Since 1995, JB Lewis-McChord has built new barracks and renovated existing facilities, modernizing the 10,000-plus bed inventory. Remaining are 54 1950s-era barracks with common bathroom facilities and long, institutional-style corridors 

As new facilities are built, many are modeled after the Jackson Avenue Barracks’ one-plus-one, garden-style design. They feature smaller groups of people living in a collocated area, with two Soldiers sharing kitchen, dining and bathroom areas.

“Increased focus on Soldier resilience has lead to increasing focus on quality of life in the barracks,” Powell said. “How you design a facility determines how residents relate to one another. The design enhances the team concept and having a battle buddy. It allows them privacy while operating as a team and creates a sense of community.”

“We work to keep Soldiers’ interests in mind,” said USACE architect intern Nathan Gregory. “We strive to improve the physical and human environment and make the facilities as livable as possible.”

“Morale and welfare — it’s a code people have been trying to crack for a long time when it comes to living spaces,” said Leah Anderson, Military Construction project manager for JB Lewis-McChord’s Planning Division. “How do you get the service members out of their rooms and interacting with others?

“The garden-style approach is one way of doing that,” she said. “The Corps of Engineers created a design where people get to know their neighbors versus the big, long corridors where you might only talk to the person whose door is across the hall.”

Though the room module is standardized, Corps designers sought to further improve morale by adding interior touches. Barracks are awarded as design-build contracts, and Corps representatives evaluate proposals and consider better quality features including countertops and floors when selecting the contractor, according to Victor Ramos, Corps of Engineers Military Construction Army program manager.

USACE designers have moved the microwave over the range to add counter space and added carpet to bedrooms, individual thermostats and larger windows and skylights.

“Little things like carpet make a big difference,” said Ramos. “It’s more inviting and easier on the feet. Part of the design process is to think of these things.”

Creating a more relaxing environment for the residents is carried to outdoor space as well.

“We specify in the contracts that they must keep the trees,” said Ramos. “We want it to feel more like a park and less like barracks.”

Buildings are arranged around a courtyard in identifiable communities with amenities such as picnic tables, grills, basketball courts, bike shelters and horseshoe pits. Residents can walk to the dining facility and work. Though there is car parking, creating sustainable neighborhoods with walkable communities where the residents live, work and play without driving is part of the master plan, according to Anderson.

“I love the sense of community that has been generated through this design,” Powell said. “It’s really heartwarming to see the impact the new facilities have on the residents. Once, my furnishing manager was driving his car past the Jackson Avenue Barracks and he heard screaming inside. He stopped to investigate and found Soldiers screaming with joy because the quality of their new housing.

“You don’t really know the impact design can have until you look in the eyes of someone who has been living in an older facility and moves to a new one,” she said. “And the Army and the Corps of Engineers have worked hard to give them the housing they deserve.”