Better Designs can Make Public Buildings Safe

Have you ever walked into a building and felt uncomfortable? We all have. Many times, we avoid places like that. Buildings can certainly make you feel relaxed and welcome or on guard and anxious. Some buildings, like embassies, data centers, and government buildings are built to withstand man-made or natural destruction.

Today, architects and design professionals are designing government buildings and data centers in such a way that the buildings themselves make their own core and shell more resilient to any kind of disasters. At the same time, it also ensures that the designs blend in with the surrounding environment.

Beautiful yet Strong Buildings:

Are beautiful and visually appealing public buildings strong and secure? Buildings are where people work, learn, live, meet, entertain and shop. According to a study, Americans spend over 90% of their time indoors. Therefore, constructing a strong yet attractive building is essential. A major transition was witnessed by the US, in the construction industry, in 2001, especially in constructing its embassies. In response to international terror attacks, State Department’s Overseas Buildings Operation (OBO) refurbished its embassy construction program. Under this program, the emphasis was placed on creating a standardized template that not only represented American values, designs, engineering, architecture, art, culture, and construction execution but also provided safe, secure and functional facilities that represented the US Government to host nations.

Redundancy and Durability:

Post 9/11, the blast-resistant design and role of architecture in guarding the public buildings have become a topic of discussion. Architects and designers studied several structural systems to understand the building designs that are vulnerable to threats. This gave rise to the concept transparent security which means ‘not visible to the public eye’ which gradually gained momentum among security consultants and design professionals. New York-based architect Barbara Nadel pointed out a few design considerations that could help in achieving the transparent security. Some of them include – master planning, site planning and landscape design, building envelope design (window system and glazing), disaster planning, engineering considerations, and life safety codes.

Transparent security takes into consideration the possibility of even a single point of failure, regardless of the nature of the threat. Besides, protecting the buildings from the threats, the transparent security provides security against hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornados as it offers stiffness and tensile strength.

Making security visible:

According to Nadel, not every building needs to address all the design considerations of transparent security. One of the best ways to enhancing the security without fortifying the building is by designing interiors with wide, open spaces – especially around entryways. The building design must ensure that a few corners of the office must only be within the sight of administrative offices and gathering places where people’s presence is always there. This helps in reporting the unusual behavior or packages immediately.

As there is no building design or security code in the US; rather a patchwork of best practices, industry guidelines, and local building codes; it is mandatory for public officials to understand what’s happening, determine what has to be adopted and how to protect the citizens.

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