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Armories

by Owen L. Hewitt
NAVFAC Engineering Criteria and Programs Office (CIENG)

Last updated: 07-26-2011

Overview

Following the Civil War, the U.S. government was becoming increasingly concerned over the possibility of widespread civil unrest and class warfare. This led to the authorization of fortified bases for local militia throughout the country by the United States War Department in 1877. Local Armory Boards were organized in many states and cities, leading to the construction of numerous armories.

Photo of Newport, Rhode Island Armory, 1894

Newport, Rhode Island Armory, 1894

Many of the older armories were often ornate, fortress-like structures. The predominant turn-of-the-century architectural philosophy was that a building should proclaim its purpose. "A church should be welcoming, a jail should be oppressive, and an armory should be strongly suggestive of a fortress." (Dr. John H. Lienhard, Professor Emeritus, University of Houston, The Engines of Our Ingenuity, Episode No. 822, Old Armories.¹)

The original function of armories was to provide a protected location where local militia could gather and train, as well as store their arms and ammunition. The spaces usually contained a large open area to practice maneuvers, offices, classrooms, dining facilities, weapons storage, and other support operations.

Today, armories, sometimes referred to as readiness centers, are used by National Guard and military reserve units. Their primary function is still to provide spaces for training, administration, and material storage for the assigned military units. Armories are also utilized to respond to emergencies and support state disaster relief for floods, fires, snowstorms, tornados, water outages, etc. In addition they are often used as a local community resource to house social functions such as public meetings and sporting events.

Building Attributes

As institutional buildings, the primary consideration in the planning or design of an armory is to ensure a highly functional, operationally efficient facility. Other important considerations are to provide a safe, flexible, cost-effective, energy efficient facility that is aesthetically pleasing and comfortable to the occupants.

Photo of Westerly Armory Restoration Project

Westerly Armory, Rhode Island, 1901-1902, Westerly Armory Restoration Project
(Photo courtesy of Victoria Lague)

Functional Considerations

The functional requirements and intended usage of individual armories may vary considerably. The information contained herein is intended to summarize general information and guidance typical for most armory facilities. Each project should be developed individually considering specific project requirements, local conditions, and codes in order to arrive at the appropriate design solution.

An armory is primarily used as training facility on both an individual and a unit level. The facility consists of a training center and may also include a related maintenance area.

Training Center: The training center generally consists of four main functional areas; administration, classroom, assembly, and unit storage, as well as general and an special support areas:

  • Administration Area: The administration area consists of office and support space.
    • The office spaces are intended for the training of clerical personnel, performing necessary paperwork, and administration activities. These functions can be separated into spaces dedicated to unit supervisors and full-time employees and common spaces shared by non-supervisory personnel that may be used by different individuals as the units rotate through training cycles.
    • Administration support spaces include message centers, reproduction rooms, conference rooms, and administration storage. The requirements for these spaces will depend upon the needs of the individual armory. Message centers serve as a mailroom and distribution point for all inter- and intra-office correspondence. A safe or other secure space for the storage of sensitive communication devices may also be required. Additional support spaces such as conference rooms, reproduction areas, drafting rooms, or photo labs may also be desirable.
  • Classroom Area: The classroom area may consist of classrooms, an audiovisual learning center, library, and related storage.
    • Classrooms should be located close to an outside entrance for easy access without going thorough the administration area. Depending on the specific nature of the anticipated instruction, the designer shall consider the specific features including size, sound attenuation, lighting, and equipment such as desks, blackboards, audio/video devices, moveable partitions, etc.
    • Specialty learning centers may be required to provide focused occupational specialty training utilizing audiovisual equipment.
    • The library/classroom provides a space for storing training publications and training related material, as well as a reading area and space for a small conference classroom.
    • Additional storage space may be provided for miscellaneous training materials.
  • Assembly Area: The assembly area may consist of an assembly hall, food service, and a related storage area for chairs.
    • The assembly hall provides space for troop formations, maintenance of equipment, food service seating, and large group assemblies for instructional training. It also may serve the neighboring community as a place of public assembly for planned functions as well as for a place of refuge in the event of natural disasters. These latter functions may control the design when considering fire protection requirements, accessibility, and bathroom layout. The assembly hall is an important functional element and should be centrally located within the facility, immediately adjacent to the kitchen and food storage spaces.
    • Food services should include the following functional areas:
      • Food preparation area used to clean, prepare, and cook food
      • Food storage area used to store fresh, frozen, and canned food items, and
      • Scullery area used to clean and store utensils, dishes, trays, pots, etc.
    • Chair storage space may be a separate room opening onto the assembly hall or a part of the assembly hall.
  • Unit Storage Area: Storage areas include spaces to manage the inventory of organizational equipment in a separate and secure area. The issue and return of organization clothing and equipment is conducted from this area that consists of a supply office and storage area subdivided by woven welded wire fabric. Locker spaces may also be provided for individuals to store clothing and equipment.
  • General Support Areas: General support areas include toilets and showers, mechanical equipment, electrical equipment, telephone equipment, janitorial and facility maintenance storage.
  • Special Support Areas: Special areas may be required based on functional requirements and include arms ranges and vaults, trainers and simulators, medical services, photo lab, etc.
    • Arms Vault/Armory Rooms: The arms vaults provide secure storage of all weapons and ammunition assigned to the facility. The vault should be located adjacent to the firing range and not on an exterior wall if possible. Special security and construction considerations must be addressed.
      • Security: An intrusion detection system (IDS) shall be installed, or provided for, according to the applicable criteria. (DOD 5100.76-M requires IDS for all DOD facilities storing category I and II missiles and rockets, category I and II ammunitions and explosives, and category II, III, and IV arms unless the storage areas are continuously manned or under constant surveillance.)
      • Minimum Construction: (Note: Minimum construction requirements vary between agencies. The minimums stated below are for U.S. Army Reserve Facilities.)
        • Walls: Minimum of 8 inches of concrete reinforced with a minimum of #4 at 9 inches on center in each direction. Reinforcement shall be in each face and staggered to form a grid approximately 4½ inch square. (DOD 5100.76-M also allows 8-inch filled concrete block reinforced with #4 or 8-inch interlocked brick for DOD facilities.)
        • Ceilings: Minimum 8 inches of concrete reinforced with a minimum of #4 bars forming a grid such that no opening exceeds 96 square inches.
        • Floors:
          • Structural floors: Minimum 8 inches of concrete reinforced with a minimum of #4 bars forming a grid such that no opening exceeds 96 square inches.
          • Slabs on Grade: Minimum of 6 inches of concrete reinforced with welded wire fabric 6x6 / W10xW10
        • Doors: Vault Doors shall be Class 5, Federal Specification AA-D-600B. (DOD 5100.76-M allows a solid hardwood or laminated wood door at least 1 ¾-inch thick with a 12-gauge steel plate on the outside face, or a standard 1 ¾-inch thick hollow metal, industrial-type door with a minimum 14-gauge skin plate thickness, internally reinforced with continuous steel stiffeners spaced 6 inches on center.)
        • Locks: Class 5 vault doors have built in combination locks. Other doors shall have a high security lock and hasp per the applicable criteria.
        • Modular Vaults: Modular vaults meeting Federal Specification AA-V-2737 may also be considered if acceptable to the design agency.
        • Weapons Storage containers: Weapons Storage containers shall be GSA approved Class 5.
    • Arms Range: The design and construction of arms ranges shall be according to the appropriate criteria and/or definitive designs. Specific design considerations may include the following:
      • Ventilation: All applicable OSHA and safety environmental regulations must be satisfied. It essential to ensure laminar airflow with an adequate air speed evenly distributed across the entire cross section of the range at the firing line. (Due to the difficulties of meeting environmental requirements it is strongly recommended to use a proven design, and that all new or renovated ranges require a qualified testing firm perform an evaluation of the ventilation system in the completed range to ensure adequacy prior to acceptance.)
      • Bullet Trap: Escalator, Venetian Blind type
      • Target Retrieval Mechanism: Manual or automatic
      • Acoustical Material: On the side walls and ceiling and extending down range of the firing line
      • Floor Drains: A floor drain and hose bib for washing the range floor may or may not be allowed. Prevention of the release of environmentally hazardous substances must be considered in the design.
    • Medical Services: Medical spaces provide spaces for physical exams, treatment and professional medical training. Where required, these spaces shall be designed for the specific intended requirements.
    • Photo Lab/Soils Testing Lab/SCIF, etc: Where required special functional areas shall be provided for training in photography developing and processing, soils testing, electronic intelligence, etc.

Maintenance Area: The maintenance area, if required, contains the spaces used to service, maintain, and store the organizational equipment as well as to train reserve mechanics. The area may contain shop offices, work bays, tools and parts storage and issue, equipment and vehicle storage, battery charging and storage, flammable material storage, mechanical equipment room, and personnel spaces including toilet, lounge, and locker rooms. There also may be requirements for special areas including small arms shop and vault and electronic/communication repair shop.

The maintenance area may also require spaces for the storage of heavy vehicles and equipment that are used during training periods. This area may contain provisions for a parking hardstand, fuel dispensing system, loading ramp, wash platform, and an indoor equipment storage warehouse.

Sample Functional Relationships

The following diagrams depict a sample of the relationships between the functional areas of both the training center and a maintenance area within an armory.

Functional relationship chart of typical Armory Training Center

Sample—Armory Training Center functional relationship

Functional relationship chart of Drive-through Maintenance Area

Sample—Drive-through Maintenance Area functional relationship
(Image credits: Department of the Army, Corps of Engineers, Design Guide DG 1110-3-107, U.S. Army Reserve Facilities, September 1984)

Flexibility and Economy of Design

Armories are typically intended to be multipurpose facilities that may require the ability to change their training emphasis over its life. Therefore the design of an armory should consider incorporating internal flexibility to accommodate change without undue expense. External flexibility should also be considered to accommodate potential growth and anticipated future use requirements. Evaluation of the cost impact of design decisions should consider life-cycle cost as well as initial cost and building system flexibility.

Safety/Security of Personnel and Material

Designs for armories shall consider the traditional life-safety and health concerns common to all buildings by following all applicable federal, state, and local building code guidelines.

  • A fire alarm and evacuation system shall be provided with illuminated exit signs and emergency lighting according to life-safety codes.
  • Comprehensive fire protection features and systems shall be developed for each project design.
  • If an indoor arms range is included in the facility, the design and construction must incorporate proven environmentally safe provisions to ensure adequate ventilation of potentially harmful fumes, to clean the facility, and properly contain and dispose of potential contaminants. Appropriate signage and operational procedures shall be established to clearly direct personnel to take appropriate precautions.
  • Appropriate security systems including potential fencing and intrusion detection measures shall be incorporated into the overall armory design.

Accessibility

All applicable state and/or federal standards for handicapped parking and accessibility shall be considered. All areas of a facility accessible to the public will typically be required to meet the accessible standards, when newly constructed or renovated, according to the standards set forth in the Americans with Disabilities Act Architectural Guidelines (ADAAG) unless a more stringent state requirement is to be applied.

Energy Efficiency

Energy conservation opportunities shall be evaluated and incorporated into the design of all armories to the fullest extent practical. The most efficient and cost-effective systems, based on life-cycle cost, should be utilized. The following areas for energy-efficient design are recommended for consideration:

  • Site Related:
    • Landscaping to provide shade and block prevailing winter winds
    • Building orientation to optimize winter sun and land forms
  • Building envelope:
    • Thickness and insulating values for insulation and vapor barriers
    • Energy-efficient windows
    • Protection of windows from direct sun with overhangs, shades, films, etc.
    • Weather stripping
    • Entrance vestibules
    • Partial wall berms or underground structures
    • Maximize winter solar gain and natural daylighting
  • Distribution system:
    • Pipe and duct insulation
    • Adjustable flow rate fans and pumps to carefully match load
  • HVAC equipment:
    • System zones based on user profile
    • High efficiency equipment
    • Waste heat recovery devices
    • Time clocks and set back thermometers
    • Computer-based energy management systems
  • Domestic hot water:
    • Insulated water heaters and storage tanks
    • Water conserving fixtures
    • Time clocks on hot water heaters
    • Waste heat recovery for water heating
    • On demand instant hot water heaters
  • Lighting:
    • Decreased light levels in non-critical areas
    • High efficiency lamps and ballasts
    • Task lighting
    • Daylighting where possible
    • Time clock, photocell, or motion control lighting

Exterior/Aesthetics

Photo of State National Guard Armory in Centerville, AL

State National Guard Armory—Centerville, AL
(Photo courtesy of Jonathan Bush)

Armories should reflect characteristics of both a military facility representing national strength and patriotism, as well as a community support facility representing a sense of security, local pride, and community participation. Modern armories are generally designed to blend into the existing architecture of the surrounding region, and appear more like educational buildings than the fortresses of earlier armories.

The exterior design should consider the following:

  • The facility should fit well into the surrounding environment and accommodate existing requirements as well as potential future development.
  • A buffered area of the site should be provided from the surrounding community to mask the noise and disruption that may arise from outdoor training exercises and heavy equipment usage.
  • The training center building due to its high usage and sense of community pride should be located in the most accessible and visibly exposed portion of the site.
  • Landscaping should be provided to support the architectural character of the facility and provide color, texture, and form to the living environment. Plant and tree selection should be made to provide a permanent low maintenance solution appropriate to the facility's location.
  • Fencing shall be provided where appropriate for security considerations. Fencing is typically required around any exterior equipment parking and maintenance areas.

Comfort

The interior environment of the armory buildings should respond to the needs of the individuals who occupy the facilities and provide a humane setting that promotes a sense of belonging and well-being. Toward this end, the following are recommended for consideration in a design:

  • Provide proper ventilation under all circumstances.
  • Provide local exhaust for restrooms, kitchens, janitor's closets, copy rooms, battery charging and storage areas, flammable material storage areas, etc.
  • Minimize HVAC equipment noise in occupied spaces.
  • Use furnishing, chairs, and equipment that are ergonomically designed for their intended use.
  • Design equipment and furnishings in an effort to eliminate repetitive motions.
  • Design lighting systems that are appropriate for the space utilization and adjustable to satisfy the occupants.
  • Optimize the functional arrangement of the spaces to maximize efficiency and comfort.

Relevant Codes and Standards

Major Resources

Footnotes

¹America's Armories: Architecture, Society, and Public Order by R.M. Fogelson. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1989.