School Safety Starts with Architecture

School safety is a rapidly growing problem, and many industries, including in architecture and design, are looking for solutions.

According to a report released earlier this month by the AIA (American Institute of Architects), the organization and its members are diligently working toward improving school safety through design, and several programs have already been initiated to that end, one of which is a bipartisan effort on Capitol Hill aimed at policy change in school design.

While the problem has now reached the national stage, efforts in the industry began more than 20 years ago. AIA President Carl Elefante stated that while conversations about mental health and gun control have been “deadlocked” for two decades, AIA has been “committed to working with stakeholders and officials to make schools safer while building the positive, nurturing, learning environments we all want for our children.”[1]

Architects all over the country are concerned about safety and have changed the way they design certain spaces, particularly schools. Many creative teams hire security consultants to assist in planning. These professionals, who often have backgrounds in law enforcement, bring a specialized perspective to the projects. The goal of these partnerships has been to protect buildings, but more importantly, to discourage dangerous individuals from gaining access.[2]

Some common design features today are secure entrances, video surveillance, high-visibility layout, enclosed vestibules, reinforced and locked doors, and intercoms. Contemporary thinking in the industry advocates a layered initiative. The outer layer, for example, is comprised of landscaping that makes approaching school visitors more visible. Also, placement of parking lots at a distance from schools means visitors must walk through an open area to reach the building. Further, a design shift toward a single school entry point is occurring. Funneling entrants through a vestibule that automatically enters a checkpoint discourages inappropriate visitors as well. [3]

AIA representatives recently spoke before Congress, focusing on two main goals: allowing federal funding and grants to be used on safe school design and establishing a federal clearinghouse on school design best practices. On Oct. 19, the Institute will host a national multidisciplinary symposium in Washington, bringing together professionals in law enforcement, education, mental health advocacy, and security consultancy, as well as architects and other design professionals.




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