Case study: Designing for tornadoes in the Midwest

The Kansas City University College of Dental Medicine created a dual-use space to meet resilient design needs

By Nancy Kohout, John Rushing, Bill Wood and Valerie Berstene October 29, 2020

In 2019, Kansas City University began the design of its College of Dental Medicine in Joplin, Mo. With the town’s history of devastating tornadoes, including an EF5 event in 2011 that caused 158 deaths and $2.8 billion in damages, the university, its architects and its engineers worked together to address the vulnerability, operational needs and building solutions for the new facility.

An evaluation of the existing campus showed that designing for continuous operations during a weather event would require extensive renovation of existing structures and systems, making that option unfeasible. Another option was to build a single-purpose shelter adjacent to the facility.

The team determined that the best solution would be to provide enhanced life safety protection during high-wind storms incorporated into a space with day-to-day functions, creating a dual-use space.

Together, the interdisciplinary design team worked with the client to role-play the daily operations and determine appropriate sizes and locations for the dual-use spaces. Architects and engineers teamed to design protective shelters for storm events as well as optimum useable space in the building for the day-to-day. This solution was the most cost-effective way to meet the client’s goals for resilient design.

Author Bio: Nancy Kohout is a principal and mechanical engineer at SmithGroup. She leads SmithGroup’s Chicago office mechanical engineering discipline with more than 20 years of experience and currently serves as the co-chair of Women in ASHRAE – Illinois Chapter. John Rushing is a structural engineer at SmithGroup. Rushing has more than 20 years of experience in structural design. Bill Wood is a civil engineer at SmithGroup. He has extensive expertise integrating infrastructure with placemaking design to provide resilient solutions and routinely speaks about green infrastructure and resiliency at regional conferences. Valerie Berstene is an architect and urban designer focused on resiliency and equity in communities.