Since the Sandy Hook elementary school shootings a few weeks ago, there have been extensive public debates on gun control issues and violent content affecting the mental health of young people. Many are calling for bans on semi-automatic rifles and assault weapons, while others have emphasized the importance of censoring violent content of video games. But should the architecture of schools be rethought to fortify against future attacks?
Several security systems have been integrated into school designs since the mass school shooting in Columbine, Colorado, in 1999. Automatic lockdowns after the first bell and metal detectors at school entrances have been widely incorporated into educational architecture across the country. While these fortress-like security systems may create a higher level of safety, many argue that these buildings can hardly be considered optimal environments for learning.
“There’s not much more we can do,” says Edmund Einy, architect and design director at California-based GKKWorks. “What are we going to do, put kids in prisons?” The firm’s new Blair International Baccalaureate Middle School in Pasadena features an entry plaza which allows school administrators to have greater control over who comes into the building.
“I think (bars and other fortifying techniques) send the wrong message to both kids and teachers,” says Mark Simon, founding partner of Centerbrook Architects and Planners. “Buildings tell stories, and when a building is designed that way, it tells you that it doesn’t trust you. And kids intuit that they’re not trusted,” he adds. He claims that improved security can be achieved through a more open layout, employed at his King & Low-Heywood Thomas School in Stamford, Connecticut. The transparency allows for clear views of the hallways, as the central space is encircled by offices.
“When someone has the intent to kill, I’m not sure if architecture can solve that problem,” says Jerry Waters of Oregon’s Dull Olson Weekes Architects, whose portfolio mainly consists of school buildings.
Photos: Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences by GKKWorks