flexiblefullpage -
billboard - default
interstitial1 - interstitial
Currently Reading

University of Oklahoma, Missouri S&T add storm-safe spaces in student housing buildings for tornado protection

Student Housing

University of Oklahoma, Missouri S&T add storm-safe spaces in student housing buildings for tornado protection

KWK Architects has designed storm-safe spaces at multiple colleges in tornado alley.

By Peter Fabris, Contributing Editor | March 13, 2023
University of Oklahoma, Missouri S&T add storm-safe spaces in student housing buildings for tornado protection
Pictured: Headington and Dunham Residential Colleges at the University of Oklahoma. Photo courtesy KWK Architects

More universities are incorporating reinforced rooms in student housing hall designs to provide an extra layer of protection for students. Storm shelters have been included in recent KWK Architects-designed university projects in the Great Plains where there is a high incidence of tornadoes.

These storm shelters are typically small, above- or below-ground structures made of concrete, masonry, or steel that are proven to withstand extreme winds as powerful as those produced by EF-4 or EF-5 tornadoes. Tornado-safe rooms were added to recent residence hall projects at:

A reinforced room should be designed to stand up to high winds on its own, independent of the building structure surrounding it, said Javier Esteban, principal at St. Louis-based KWK. “It is critically important to maintain the structure of the reinforced area so that should a building collapse occur, it does not affect the integrity of the reinforced space, and its occupants remain safe,” Esteban said.

Reinforced room designs often incorporate emergency lighting, electrical outlets, fire extinguishers, first aid kits, heating and air conditioning, and an AED defibrillator. When not in use, residence hall storm shelters can serve as lounge and study areas for students.

The Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH) has outlined the different types of tornado-safe room options available, and the materials used to build them:

1. Cast-in-Place Concrete – these rooms are assembled on-site using removable forms, rebar, and concrete to create the walls and ceilings. The forms can be fitted with liners to create concrete exterior surfaces that look like siding, brick, or stone.

2. Insulating Concrete Forms (ICFs) – These rooms are created using foam blocks that contain steel reinforcement, fitted together and filled with concrete. The foam is a permanent part of the room and provides insulation to the building. Interior and exterior finish options include drywall, sheetrock, or siding.

3. Concrete Masonry – These safe rooms are constructed of individual blocks, set in place with rebar and fully grouted. Two rows of steel at the top of the wall hold the assembly together. A variety of texture and finish options are available.

4. Precast Concrete – This room is formed off-site and delivered to a building for installation. It can be located virtually anywhere in a new building and is anchored using steel angles and bolts. Precast concrete can be finished in a variety of colors and textures using form liners.

5. Prefabricated Above-Ground Steel – These prefabricated safe rooms typically cost less than site-built safe rooms. Considerations must be made to ensure that this room is placed on a safe and sturdy foundation.

University Commons residential complex at Missouri S&T
Pictured: University Commons residential complex at Missouri S&T. Photo courtesy KWK Architects


OU Storm Shelter - East.JPG

OU Storm Shelter - West.JPG

OU Storm Shelter - Overall.JPG




Related Stories

Multifamily Housing | Mar 24, 2023

Multifamily developers offering new car-free projects in car-centric cities

Cities in the South and Southwest have eased zoning rules with parking space mandates in recent years to allow developers to build new housing with less parking.

Building Tech | Mar 14, 2023

Reaping the benefits of offsite construction, with ICC's Ryan Colker    

Ryan Colker, VP of Innovation at the International Code Council, discusses how municipal regulations and inspections are keeping up with the expansion of off-site manufacturing for commercial construction. Colker speaks with BD+C's John Caulfield.

Student Housing | Mar 5, 2023

Calif. governor Gavin Newsom seeks to reform environmental law used to block student housing

California Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to reform a landmark state environmental law that he says was weaponized by wealthy homeowners to block badly needed housing for students at the University of California, Berkeley.

Green Renovation | Mar 5, 2023

Dept. of Energy offers $22 million for energy efficiency and building electrification upgrades

The Buildings Upgrade Prize (Buildings UP) sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy is offering more than $22 million in cash prizes and technical assistance to teams across America. Prize recipients will be selected based on their ideas to accelerate widespread, equitable energy efficiency and building electrification upgrades.

Multifamily Housing | Mar 1, 2023

Multifamily construction startup Cassette takes a different approach to modular building

Prefabricated modular design and construction have made notable inroads into such sectors as industrial, residential, hospitality and, more recently, office and healthcare. But Dafna Kaplan thinks that what’s held back the modular building industry from even greater market penetration has been suppliers’ insistence that they do everything: design, manufacture, logistics, land prep, assembly, even onsite construction. Kaplan is CEO and Founder of Cassette, a Los Angeles-based modular building startup.

Multifamily Housing | Feb 11, 2023

8 Gold and Platinum multifamily projects from the NAHB's BALA Awards

This year's top BALA multifamily winners showcase leading design trends, judged by eight industry professionals from across the country.

Giants 400 | Feb 9, 2023

New Giants 400 download: Get the complete at-a-glance 2022 Giants 400 rankings in Excel

See how your architecture, engineering, or construction firm stacks up against the nation's AEC Giants. For more than 45 years, the editors of Building Design+Construction have surveyed the largest AEC firms in the U.S./Canada to create the annual Giants 400 report. This year, a record 519 firms participated in the Giants 400 report. The final report includes 137 rankings across 25 building sectors and specialty categories.   

Multifamily Housing | Feb 3, 2023

HUD unveils report to help multifamily housing developers overcome barriers to offsite construction

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, in partnership with the National Institute of Building Sciences and MOD X, has released the Offsite Construction for Housing: Research Roadmap, a strategic report that presents the key knowledge gaps and research needs to overcome the barriers and challenges to offsite construction.

Student Housing | Jan 26, 2023

6 ways 'choice architecture' enhances student well-being in residence halls

The environments we build and inhabit shape our lives and the choices we make. NAC Architecture's Lauren Scranton shares six strategies for enhancing well-being in residence halls.

Multifamily Housing | Jan 19, 2023

Editorial call for Multifamily Affordable Housing project case studies - no cost to submit!

Building Design+Construction will feature a roundup of "Multifamily Affordable Housing" projects on BDCnetwork.com. 

boombox1 - default
boombox2 -
native1 -

More In Category

halfpage1 -

Most Popular Content

  1. 2021 Giants 400 Report
  2. Top 150 Architecture Firms for 2019
  3. 13 projects that represent the future of affordable housing
  4. Sagrada Familia completion date pushed back due to coronavirus
  5. Top 160 Architecture Firms 2021


Magazine Subscription

Get our Newsletters

Each day, our editors assemble the latest breaking industry news, hottest trends, and most relevant research, delivered to your inbox.


Follow BD+C: