Architectural sleight of hand transforms a FEMA safe room from bunker to glass box.
Tasked with designing a community center on a shoestring budget, Des Moines–based ASK Studio was unsure how to fit the program to the project’s finances. Then an attendee at a community feedback session suggested applying for FEMA funds to build a combination community room and storm shelter. The FEMA tie-in solved the money problem, but it created an aesthetic challenge. The architects had originally diagrammed the community center, sited atop a central knoll in a large park in Urbandale, Iowa, as a connection point that would orient visitors without obstructing views. When the project was redefined as a safe room, said ASK’s Brent Schipper, “I just cringed, because how do you have a transparent node that’s also a tornado shelter? I thought, ‘We’re going to make a bunker, and pretend it works as the node of the centerpiece of the park.'” Luckily, Schipper’s gut reaction proved wrong. A triumph of architectural sleight of hand, ASK’s Giovannetti Community Shelter is built evidence that “welcoming safe room” is not an oxymoron.