Over the past decade, highly alert buildings have sprung up everywhere to create a hostile “fortress-like” environment. How to reconcile security and openness in contemporary urban environment?

When the new U.S. Embassy building in London was officially opened in late 2016 – it is located near the Battersea Power Station on the River Thames – one of the tightest buildings in the UK.

Architects Kieran Timberlake boasted of its high-specification, highly-secured features: “Security requirements were achieved through landscape design without the use of tall walls and fences – such as wide ponds, Low garden walls with bench seats and natural yet unobtrusive barriers created by differences in height. ”

The embassy’s own description of the building is “modern, friendly, safe,” outlining the challenges designers face in confronting the conflicting purposes of security and openness in a contemporary urban setting.

Although the new embassy is far removed from the current U.S. Embassy in Grosvenor Square style, the critics say it represents a much broader wave. Over the past 10 years, highly prepared space has sprung up in various towns and cities, creating an hostile environment that some have described as “bastion-like.”

The new U.S. Embassy looks “like a Norman castle,” says Stephen Graham, a professor of urban and social studies at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom. “It even has a moat, laid out and left behind, leaving empty space to prepare for truck bombs or explosions,” he added. “This idea shows what a counter-terrorism city will look like.”

This defensive architecture is one aspect of the trend that brings various forms of “defensible space” into the cityscape. Last summer, the ground outside a private apartment building on Southwark Bridge Road in southern London was found to have embedded “spikes in homelessness”, sparking a strong public protest.
Boris Johnson, the then mayor of London, described the spikes as “ugly, counterproductive and stupid” before the spikes were removed.

It is also easy to argue that so-called “mosquito” sounders installed by retailers prevent them from staying in the shop by sending out high-frequency sounds that only young people and infants can hear. In New York, a spiked cover was installed on the hydrant to prevent people from sitting on the fire hydrant. Other examples include bus stops with slopes, park benches that you can not lay on top of, and concrete benches designed by Camden to stop skaters.

The word defensive space was invented by American architect Oscar Newman in the 1970s. This concept gave birth to an industry that is based on the principle of designing crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) and the related ideas spread to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean have had a profound impact on urban policy. The security design of the British police (Secured by Design The initiative is one example.

Professor Graham commented: “We are redesigning the city so that anyone who is not moving is seen as a threat, including pregnant women, people with young children or people with disabilities.” I do not deny the existence of a terrorist attack, Danger and security loopholes, but at some point these factors are exaggerated and the threat of terrorism becomes a tangled one. ”

Phoebe Boulton Jaggi, a student at the London College of Communication, studied antisocial street public facilities. Jagie said the city is becoming “more livable for consumers and less livable for the rest of the population.” While architects may receive support for integrating defensive design into potential targets (such as the U.S. embassy), critics are opposed to the transfer of fortified security facilities to other public buildings, such as schools, hospitals and residential areas. Such security precautions often include towering fencing, barbed wire and CCTV cameras.

Anna Minton, author of Ground Control and associate professor of architecture at the University of East London, said: “Security design has become the basic template for all new developments today. She added that the terrorist threat has become “a reason for the escalating security” that has become part of the everyday environment.

Safety Design was founded in 1989 and is wholly owned by the British Association of Chief Police Officers. The agency supports the concept of “designing crime prevention”, such as reducing the theft by 75% with specially designed doors and fences.

Jon Cole, National Operations Manager for Security Design, said: “Security measures can be invisible, and if you’ve incorporated security into your building from the start, the building is generally more aesthetically pleasing. ”
Security measures are too strict and exclusive urban space stirred some reactions. Oxford Circus in London is an example of the concept of “shared space” in Europe. In order to improve traffic safety, the relevant departments here remove obstacles, roundabouts and even traffic lights.

In the United States, organizations such as Rebar, the landscape architecture agency in San Francisco, are influencing the debate about public spaces. In the meantime, in Hamburg, designer Oliver Schau created a “guerrilla seat” in the city by using yellow drains.

In Canada, RainCity Housing, an independent charity aiming to help the homeless, installed covered benches in urban areas to provide shelter for street-dwellers. This is in stark contrast to the spikes in homelessness in the streets of London.

Professor Graham believes that the debate will become more intense. “Raising public awareness of the current situation is a challenge,” he said. “This is an ambitious problem that needs to be understood by people.”