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May 2017


Special Report Risk Management:  Property


Anti—terror architecture easy on the eye

Demand for features that minimise the risk of attack in public spaces is growing

High alert: some open spaces at Lloyd’s have been closed Oc AFP

by: Judith Evans

At the headquarters of the oil and gas producer Devon Energy in Oklahoma City, a reflecting pool sits around the glass lobby; visitors can see rippling images of the 50-storey tower and the sky.

But the pool, seemingly one of the building’s design features, is in fact a moat acting as a barrier between the site’s public and private space. Similarly, around the building are planters filled with trees and bushes that conceal robust barriers aimed at stopping vehicles from crashing into the tower.

“If folks had evil intent, they would be thwarted. They could not take a vehicle beyond the curb line,” says Jon Pickard of Pickard Chilton, the building’s architect. “Most people would have absolutely no idea of the level of care that went into the protection of the facility.”

Oklahoma, with its experience of the 1995 truck bombing that killed 168, has long had a heightened concern over the danger of attacks on public spaces. But specialists in the field known as “protective design” say that features like these have permeated architecture worldwide in the past two decades. Such elements are increasingly included in projects from luxury housing and data centres to shopping malls and offices.

Peter DiMaggio, head of Weidlinger Protective Design, says the number of buildings incorporating defences against violent attack has grown considerably in recent times. “Unfortunately, the rate of attacks, both in the US and internationally, has increased significantly,” he says. “Almost everybody is starting to realise they are potentially a target.”

Increased demand for defensive measures has coincided with a push towards openness in architecture, with an emphasis on expansiveness, light and ground-level access for the public, even in private buildings such as offices. But the two can be difficult to combine.

The architect Richard Rogers, for example, lamented in an October lecture that in some of his own buildings, such as the Pompidou Centre in Paris and the Lloyd’s of London building, security worries had meant closure of what were intended to be open spaces.

Developers are now looking to include security from the start of a project so that barriers, surveillance and other safeguards can be subtle rather than heavy-handed. Physical design features are supplemented by trained private security teams who, likewise, operate largely unseen by the public.

Mr DiMaggio says one example of an invisible security measure is laminated glass, which shatters into “spider-web” patterns but does not splinter into flying shards in the event of a shooting or bomb detonating. This replaced tempered glass, which is treated to increase strength and breaks into chunks rather than shards, and is in turn safer than plain glass, which breaks into “super-sharp particles”, he says.

Similarly, other materials such as steel, concrete and plastics can be treated relatively cheaply to reduce dangerous flying debris in the event of an impact or explosion. “For only a small increase in costs, you can really mimimise the amount of casualties.”

Costs are a main concern for developers, who may reduce security measures, especially when building speculatively or without a specific tenant signed up, says Mark Whyte, who leads the resilience, security and crisis management practice for Europe and Africa at the consultancy Control Risks.

He says standard construction costs on average about 1,500 a square metre, while heavily defended military facilities cost tens of thousands of pounds a square metre to build. However, costs for security measures incorporated into an everyday building are not as high as some imagine, he says. “some of the more normal systems you will see, like glazing systems and anti-vehicle bollards and blockers, can be much more cost-effective, especially if they are designed in the early stages of a scheme. You are talking, say, 3,000 per bollard.” 

Security measures must keep pace with evolving threats, though many such features have multiple functions, notes Mr Whyte. For example, surveillance and barriers to keep protesters away from a trading floor will also help to block an attacker with a gun.

Planners and developers have increased efforts to protect public spaces after a series of ramming attacks using vehicles in Europe, but barriers and layouts already created to deter car bombings can help to block “car as a weapon” assaults. The Cabot Circus shopping centre in Bristol, UK, completed in 2008, is an example. Street furniture was placed to block vehicle attacks, while side streets were realigned to prevent direct lines of entry by attackers into the central public space.

But Mr Pickard says measures will always have their limits. “We can’t feel like we are trapped,” he says. “There are ways of managing some risks, but you won’t be able to manage them all”