Security Conscious Buildings

10 years ago, our worlds were shaken up……. 7 years after the world of building construction  and design (the civilized and progressive world) received its first jolt on this day,  the reality and proximity of this new enemy jumped scales and shifted gears. In these 10 years, our urban spaces have steadily been taken over by security, guards and equipment meant to ‘secure’ us and instill confidence and succour. This objective is achieved to some extent, however questionable its efficacy maybe.

Figure1: Relationship between building and terror- the Taj Mahal Hotel, Mumbai, India

There are many efforts by the administration, enforcing stipulations and mandates in our best interests. There are reams of policy and best practices, huge budgets allocated to security expenditures in all aspects of development and a spurt of security related services on offer from consultancy to services. Yet, most architects remain oblivious of their role in this latest challenge to the ‘built environment’.

Shelter and Security have always been the most basic human needs and the primal factors for the origin of buildings and all disciplines associated with it. Most of the history & evolution of architecture and monuments has taken place in parallel to the developments in security techniques in any part of the world.

In modern times, today security challenges are different. The primary challenge is making a civilization actually and perceptibly secure. The rising crime rates, a baseline sense of fear and the general sentiment of helplessness, are today the new normal. There are debates and  blame games pinning the government, the security agencies and many other  psycho-social trends.  But is there a role for design?

Against common knowledge, the scope of the design fraternity is not limited to beautification and concealing the latest technological equipment.  Security failure in any built environment is as much a design failure and design needs to factor in possibilities of security lapses. The interplay of these aspects of the built environment need better understanding by the security community, design fraternity and all related stakeholders. Some pertinent issues easily countered by design:

  1. Life safety and reduction of losses to property
  • A reduction of the immediate and actual loss of lives due to crime/terror is a direct outcome of design thought and consideration to threats and likely scenarios.
  • Statistics indicate that failed building or its parts claim maximum lives. That implies that the very buildings which were primarily meant to protect, can instead be misused by miscreants for mass destruction unless the same is addressed at design stage.
  • Design has been dealing with nature’s uncertainties (seismic, wind etc.). The science can and must extend to withstand human irrationalities. This may be by defined guidelines or best practices.
  • Minimization of losses to property and operations is the solution in the short and long terms.
  1. Statutory requirements for security in building installations
  • The terror attacks of 26/11 triggered a number of mandatory inclusions. Very often these are either not understood or dodged to just get by without due efficacy. Many a design may also provide something completely inappropriate due to lack of knowledge which can sometimes generate a vulnerability in itself which may not be mitigated by the best of efforts and have the potential for catastrophic levels. Research indicates that such errors are mostly from ignorance and inconsideration to these aspects and equally easily addressed at the conceptual stages. That is the level of responsibility and potential of design.
  • Most building constructions in India is driven by real estate or infrastructure development. Market forces of space, aesthetics and commercial benefits had side-lined security to a statutory obligation. Reprioritization is required based on the building type, function and security needs, using this thrust as a marketing strategy and lifestyle benefit.
  • There are certain buildings that need to be designed based on threat perception with focus on security. Factors to decide these and guidelines for the design of such buildings merits debate and interdependence of these hitherto unsympathetic disciplines.
  1. Efficiency and Ergonomy
  • The allocated budget towards the fulfilment of mandatory stipulations can actually be better utilized for effective security than the mere theatrics.
  • In the current mode, some of the installations actually generate vulnerabilities instead of reducing them. Just a slight sensitivity can turn it around, ensuring not only that there are no security blunders in design but also security benefits without major cost factors.
  • The current trend of overt security is making our neighbourhoods increasingly militaristic and fearsome. Security need not be visible to be perceptible.
  • Embedded security through design implies a shift from the dependence on manpower and equipment towards a more comprehensive approach to crime prevention & detection with better effectiveness and budgetary benefits.
  1. Crime prevention & Social engineering:
  • Security priority is generally discounted against the probability argument; but India is one of the countries most affected by terror and crime against women, seniors and children.
  • Security is an infrastructural imperative and a precursor to growth and investments.
  • Design is today a tool for social engineering and overall governance. Globally, design is being debated for crime prevention, social inclusion and to comprehensively address anti-establishment ideology.


igure 2: Integrated security in design – the ‘Shard’, London, UK

Globally, 9/11 impacted and continues its influence over skyscrapers and design conception of iconic buildings. The new World Trade Centre 1 in New York and ‘the Shard’ building in London are testimony to the new trending security conscious buildings and outcomes of the latest evolutionary demands to integrate security into mainstream architectural design of buildings.

In the process of securing our urban environments here is an opportunity for the security men to expect more efficient ‘built-in’ security and for the architects to reclaim their grasp of the urban aesthetic.  The onus is on both the players to drive and demand design integration, a collective technical responsibility and a new-age challenge,   to accept and overcome……