Design, Building Codes and Emergency Strategies All Play


Important Role in Residence Hall Emergency Evacuations

One of the elements of safe residence hall design is proper evacuation of the building. When someone enters a building, eventually they will have to exit, sometimes quickly in the case of an emergency. Building codes, emergency strategies and thoughtful design all play important roles in protecting the health, welfare and safety of residence hall occupants when an emergency evacuation is necessary.

According to student housing design expert Javier Esteban, principal at KWK Architects, studies show that in emergency cases, most people tend to try to exit a building in the same way that they entered, but that may not always be the easiest or fastest route to safety.

“As the built environment community learns more and more about how building materials, assemblies and humans behave in cases of emergency, new studies and guidelines are constantly coming into light, along with periodic updates to the codes,” said Esteban. “The safe design of a building is an integrated process that involves many specialists, architects and engineers from multiple disciplines, including fire protection, security design systems, evacuation alarm systems, and structural. All work together toward a common goal of protecting life first and property second.”

The main purpose of building codes is to protect health, safety and welfare as they relate to buildings and their construction, taking into consideration emergency evacuations in cases of fire and smoke. Emergency strategies and codes consider not only human behavior, but also the shape and function of the building, the number of occupants and how different events such as fire, smoke, storms, tornadoes and earthquakes affect different parts of the building.

The study of recent disasters has also helped to shape current building codes, such as the Loma Prieta 1989 earthquake, which helped designers gain a better understanding of how seismic waves behave on different types of soils, and the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire in London where combustible insulation of the exterior cladding contributed to the propagation of a fire that killed 72 people.

Proper evacuation of a building is an important element of safe design. In addition to the required minimum number of exits, minimum corridor and door widths, proper location and safe passageways to these exits, a series of systems are in place to guide the building occupants to a safer place, which is generally, but not always, the exterior of the building. These systems include fire and smoke alarms, fire suppression systems (sprinklers), proper illumination, special illuminated signals visible with smoke in the room/corridor that are connected to backup power or battery, audible alarms and evacuation enunciation devices that guide people to specific places, among many other systems that are common place now in many new residence halls.

“In the last few years, we have gained a better understanding of how smoke behaves in elevator shafts and elevator doors. Smoke evacuation has affected how elevator lobbies are designed. New products have come to market that create smoke curtains in front of elevator doors, providing a smoke separation between the floor and the elevator shaft, and also providing a way for firefighters accessing the floor from the elevator to visually inspect it before proceeding. These devices use a combination of magnets, reinforced plastic motorized curtains, and alarm/smoke detectors in the elevator lobby. They give designers some flexibility to explore multiple options to provide a safe residence hall while also promoting community, in this case eliminating additional elevator lobby enclosures,” said Esteban.

New products and technologies have also been developed to create a safe, community-based corridor within residence halls. Older building codes did not require door closers on bedroom doors facing the corridor in residence halls, said Esteban. When students wanted to interact with each other, but stay in their bedrooms, they just had to open the door. This created a very active corridor that promoted community on the floor but was not always safe in emergencies.

Current codes now require that these communicating corridors also serve as emergency egress corridors; therefore, they must provide a minimum level of smoke and fire protection during a building evacuation, from a half hour up to two or more hours of fire protection.

“One of the key elements is to provide fire rated doors with door closers that provide a positive latching of the door. This safety requirement ensures that bedroom doors are always closed, making the corridor just a passageway,” he said. “To increase the opportunity for communication, students sometimes prop open their doors using a book or heavy object to keep the door from closing, creating a condition that would be very unsafe in the event of a fire.”

There is a device on the market that provides a door closer/holder with a multi-point hold-open function connected to an alarm system that activates the closer in case of an emergency, automatically closing the door. This device is different from the traditional magnetic door closer that only allows for a 90-degree angle.

“The multi-point hold-open function allows the students to create their own ‘door language.’ When the door is fully open, the student is open to visits; when the door is set at 45-degrees, they may be studying, but still open to interaction. Now the corridor is re-gaining its important community activity, but in a safer way,” said Esteban.

Image Above: IUPUI North Hall Interior

Founded in 2013 by five architects with a combined 150 years of higher education knowledge and experience, KWK Architects partners with colleges and universities across the United States to create innovative and inspiring places that enhance campus life. For more information


M Property Services, NorthSide Regeneration Challenging St. Louis City High School Students to Design Interactive Urban Park


Deadline for team registration is Jan. 18, 2019

For the fifth straight year, St. Louis area developer Paul McKee, Jr. of M Property Services, LLC (MPS), along with NorthSide Regeneration, is challenging St. Louis City high school students to an urban design challenge.

For the 2019 challenge, students will explore the conceptual design of an interactive urban park within NorthSide Regeneration – an urban, mixed-use community being developed by McKee that encompasses over 1,500 acres in North St. Louis City. Utilizing the existing city street network and the designated park area within the development’s proposed Innovation District and HealthWorks Village, students will be challenged to design a park that incorporates landscape features, amenities, attractions and structures suitable for creating a branded experience and regional attraction. The main element of the design must include a passive solar concession building, park elements and several varieties of sundials.

“We believe it is important to expose more youth to the fields of architecture, engineering and construction through involvement in our city-wide, high school Project Design Challenge,” said McKee. “Year after year, the students surpass our expectations, coming up with innovative ideas and uses for new products and technology in their plans. We would love to see more teams participate.”

The design challenge is open to any student attending high school within St. Louis City, including public, charter, private and parochial schools. Teams, which can include up to six students, are required to register for the challenge by Jan. 18, 2019. MPS will try to assign a mentor to each team/teacher – a professional in the field of architecture or engineering who will help guide them through the creative and design process.

Participating teams will be required to submit a project description between 300-500 words explaining their design theory and solution by the April 5, 2019 submission deadline. Each team must also submit no more than three poster boards showing an aerial location for the park, a site plan, enlarged details/and or elevations and an optional perspective drawing. A 3-D model of each team’s design will also be required.

On April 13, 2019, each team will orally present their project, then answer questions to a jury which will be comprised of individuals in the architecture and engineering fields, plus neighborhood liaisons and representatives of NorthSide Regeneration.

The jury will choose Gold, Silver and Bronze winners, with all other teams earning an Honorable Mention. The winners will be announced at an awards ceremony on April 29, 2019 at the Engineers’ Club of St. Louis.

The challenge is coordinated each year by Karen Bahr, Executive Assistant at M Property Services. Over the past five years, approximately 285 students from 55 teams representing nine schools (including CCC, Roosevelt, St. Mary’s, Metro, Gateway, McKinley, Vashon, Cleveland and Carnahan) and 34 mentors have participated in the Project Design Challenge. Past challenges have included, “Planning for the Autonomous Vehicle”, “Neighborhood Entry Marker”, “Urban Park”, “Neighborhood Streetscape” and “Parking Lot of the 21st Century”.

For more information about the design challenge, contact Karen Bahr at 636-561-9337 or email

Founded in 1990, M Property Services, LLC (MPS) is a full-service real estate development, property management and brokerage firm based in O’Fallon, MO. At the core of every MPS development is the concept of LifeWorks® – the creation of master-planned environments that are attuned to the needs and aspirations of the total person, providing opportunities for individuals to live, learn, work, play and pray. For more information about M Property Services, visit or call 636-561-9300.