Striking a balance between security and aesthetics within public buildings

Public buildings don’t have to look intimidating and fortress-like to be safe and secure. Simple, innovative solutions can address safety without ruining the overall aesthetic. However, getting the balance right can be a real challenge.

We recently commissioned research to investigate ‘how safe the UK’s faith communities feel in their places of worship.’ We found that while 76% of respondents feel safer with security measures in place, 54% also feel more nervous as a result of visible security in religious venues.

Furthermore, 62% believe visible security detracts from the aesthetic of the building, and nearly three-quarters would like to see more security measures installed discreetly.

This shows that robust security solutions are essential in ensuring visitors to places of worship feel safe, yet aesthetic considerations are equally important.

So, are safe, secure, and stylish all achievable in building design? If so, what are the barriers to architects achieving this goal?

I believe a balance is entirely possible, particularly when architects and specialist risk and security consultants work together from the outset, guaranteeing the effective implementation of security requirements into the design.

Designing-in physical security 

First, it is worth exploring why physical security is essential in protecting buildings against a range of threats and vulnerabilities. Fundamentally, the most effective form is achieved by multi-layering several different measures, a process known as ‘defence-in-depth’.

Our places of worship white paper highlighted a high degree of worshipper concern about security in churches, mosques, temples and synagogues. The common threats identified were vandalism (18%), burglary (17%) and physical attacks on worshippers (17%). These results show people are, understandably, most concerned about acts of crime they have either witnessed or know are possible.

Therefore, for a security strategy to win public trust and reinforce a sense of safety, it should aim to protect against these threats first and foremost.

Assuring security through design 

Clearly, it is in everyone’s best interest for all involved in a specific project to work together to create safe buildings. This can be achieved effectively when architects and security consultants collaborate early in the construction journey to directly implement security requirements into designs.

Before launching into specifying various security features for a site, I recommend conducting a thorough risk assessment. It’s an essential step in designing the most appropriate security strategy.

Then investigate the range of solutions on the market suited to your build, particularly those providing the most safety without compromising on the visual appeal. For instance, the latest automated gates and security fencing options, designed specifically to offer protection, while also looking smart and discreet.

Naturally, visual appeal is an important consideration for all architects. However, elaborate designs can run the risk of increasing the cost of physical security solutions when they’re required to integrate into a design without detracting from it.

Instead of being tempted to ignore security features altogether, architects can make use of design features to help limit anti-social behaviour, creating a secure and attractive environment. This could include adding in more windows, designing-out dark spaces and corners, or using colour to support wayfinding.

Subtle Security

If security threats are accounted for but not immediately visible, those enjoying the site will have no reason to feel unsafe.

This could simply be the positioning of certain features out of sight to reduce the perception of a security threat. Other measures might include a reduction of access points to limit the risk of unauthorised entry, as well as curated perimeter fencing which complements the aesthetic of the building.

Subtle features, such as perimeter intrusion detection systems, can also be installed around the perimeter. These will alert security officers when the perimeter has been breached remotely.

Identifying the barriers

Despite an endless amount of options available, it’s fair to say security is not always given priority in building design. This could be down to restricted budgets, or a sheer lack of best practice design guidance.

These issues were highlighted by a survey of 274 architects, ‘Setting the Standard for Security’, conducted by Jacksons Fencing in 2019, which found that three quarters (76%) believed budget constraints lead to corners being cut.

The same survey found a third of respondents think there’s not enough information and resource available on designing secure buildings and sites. This research goes some way to highlight a real need for architects to be supported by security specialists when they design new public buildings.

Better guidance needs to be provided to ensure architects are specifying the correct security measures to achieve the desired effects.

Whether for safety, deterring malicious attacks, preventing unauthorised access or safeguarding reputation, the physical security of a building should always be considered as an integral part of the design, to avoid potentially devastating attacks on sites.

Nobody wants to feel unsafe. When building designers receive the right advice and invest in security measures with care, beautiful public buildings can protect and delight those who use them.