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ECU interior design student Michelle Hamilton discusses her group’s Wounded Warrior barracks design for barracks suitable for rehabilitating Marines in the U.S. Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Battalion. As part of an interior design class project, the group designed around the theme, In Unity There is Strength. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)

ECU Students Design Wounded Warrior Barracks

By Christine Neff

For their latest class project, East Carolina University interior design students Brenda Alicea and her group members turned to an unusual source for inspiration: Alicea’s husband, a Marine.

From him, they learned about Marine life and the sort of amenities Marines need in their living quarters. They learned that Marines do not like to be alone, though they value their privacy, and that a patch of grass can be a prized sight to Marines returning from duty in the Middle East.

The students applied that input to their task of designing “barracks of the future” that can accommodate the needs of wounded, injured and ill Marines in the U.S. Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Battalion.

“We wanted to make them feel at home,” Alicea said, in describing her group’s design. “A lot of soldiers come home after serving and have no place else to go. This is home for them.”

Added classmate Emily Giles, “It’s nice to be able to give them a space they can enjoy.”

The Wounded Warrior barracks – or Bachelor Enlisted Quarters – provide assisted living space for Marines who are rehabilitating. Ideas generated by the ECU class project may be applied to a new facility being built at Camp Lejeune or in future Wounded Warrior projects.

Hunt McKinnon, professor of interior design, said the work shows students that social engagement is an important part of being a designer. “They realize that this project can make a difference in somebody’s life, and that has made a huge difference in how they approach it,” he said.

Many of the students complemented their academic research with accounts of Marine life from wounded Marines and representatives of the Wounded Warrior Battalion.

ECU students Rebecca Rotella, Michelle Hamilton, Lauren Williams and Jen Wilson included a mailroom in their design for the Wounded Warrior barracks.

Michelle Hamilton, whose husband is a Marine, knew how her husband’s unmarried friends felt about living in the barracks. “The single Marines would always come to our house,” she said. “They liked the home-cooked meals and the feel of a home atmosphere.”

Her group attempted to recreate that homey feel in their design through the use of comfortable couches, colorful fabrics and windows to let in natural light. Not only is the space more inviting, they said, it may promote the healing process for ill and wounded residents.

Other groups’ plans incorporate elements such as furniture specially crafted for wheelchair-users, textured carpeting to assist visually-impaired residents and storage space designed to hold military gear.

Col. (Ret) Peter Grimes, command advisor for the Wounded Warrior Battalion - East, has been impressed by the quality of the students’ work and the ingenuity of their ideas. “They have been absolutely phenomenal and so creative,” Grimes said. “I can’t tell you how wonderful it was that they got involved with this project.”

Grimes has taken their ideas back to base to share with the architects of a new Wounded Warrior facility at Camp Lejeune. The complex will have office space, common areas, rehabilitation rooms and housing for 100 Marines. Though the design for that project is near completion, it may be changed to incorporate “some of the really brilliant ideas” the students have, Grimes said. He hopes to involve ECU students in future housing projects organized by the battalion.

Steve Duncan, ECU director of military programs, said this project is part of the “growing emergence” of support for the military by the university. “ECU is putting itself on the map as being very involved in helping this part of our community,” he said.

Duncan credited the dedication of the design students. “It is obvious they have put a lot of ‘head time’ into this project, and they have put a lot of ‘heart time’ into it, too. They really care about what they’re doing,” he said.

The students will present the next phase of their design plans to ECU faculty and representatives of the Wounded Warrior battalion on Nov. 5, from 5:30 to 7 p.m., in the Rivers Building lobby. The public is invited.

This page originally appeared in the Nov. 3, 2008 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at