COUNTERTERRORISM BY DESIGN
It’s not always easy to spot, but antiterrorist architecture is becoming more and more common around the world
Architectural innovation in the fight against terrorism.
BY JO CARLOWE Terrorists tearing through bridges, markets, holiday resorts, concert venues and bars have become all too commonplace. It’s the stuff of nightmares, made worse by the ease with which regular vehicles can be turned into lethal weapons. Indeed, the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) describes cars, vans and trucks as their “weapon of choice”.
Of course, the police and intelligence services are already working tirelessly to counter these threats, but they’re not the only ones. Behind the scenes there are quieter heroes too – the designers who are trying to keep us safe through architectural ingenuity. They’re the professionals who are adding safety measures to our landscapes – precautions hidden in plain sight in the guise of planters, benches and lamp posts, everyday street furniture that’s tested to withstand the force of a hurtling truck.
Walk past London’s Palace of Westminster and you’ll see large black barriers engineered to halt a truck from striking at speed. St roll fur ther along Whitehall, the home of many government ministries, or to the north side of Parliament Square, and the barriers disappear.
This isn’t a security oversight. The area is still protected, but here the barriers have been seamlessly designed into the landscape. You’ll pass what looks like a classical balustrade wall, something that might have been there for centuries. It hasn’t. It’s a modern intervention packed with reinforcements to prevent a hostile vehicle attack.
On London’s busy Tot tenham Court Road, there’s a massive oval-shaped bench – it, too, is a barrier in disguise. Smack a van into it, and the vehicle will come off worse.
But it’s not just the UK’s capital that benefits from these hidden features. The seats on the approach to Wales’s National Assembly are reinforced, and so are the nautically themed benches outside the Titanic Belfast museum.
Bi rmingham New Street railway station – once voted the “ugliest building in Britain” – recently underwent a revamp that not only gave it an attract ive mirror-polished stainless steel facade, but a robust ‘Hostile Vehicle Mitigation’ (HVM) system. The building is protected with massive stainless steel planters packed with impressive trees. There are also counterterrorism blocks around the taxi rank and within the public plaza masquerading as seating. Visitors use them on a daily basis, unaware of their dual purpose.
The aim is to protect people without making them feel that they’ve entered a security zone, explains Jonathan Goss, counterterror and vehicle- securit y special ist, and managing director of Townscape Products, who designed the New Street and Titanic Bel fast projects. “There’s a danger that HVM
THE AIM IS TO PROTECT WITHOUT MAKING IT FEEL LIKE A SECURITY ZONE
systems that are obviously installed to provide security will create further civilian unease by making people feel as though they’re living under constant threat of attack. As such, it’s essential to take a holistic approach to perimeter protection. By taking a long-term preventative view, it’s possible to ensure the correct level of protection while enhancing the aesthetics and functionality of public spaces.” Turning protective concrete blocks into planters is also a way of bringing more greenery into our urban spaces.
But this idea of combining safety and aesthetics is not entirely new. Outside Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, London, which opened in 2006, are giant concrete letters that spell out the club’s name. It looks like a quirky design feature, but it’s actually a massive shield to absorb energy in the event of a hostile vehicle attack. Concrete benches and giant ornate cannons (part of the club’s insignia) on the forecourt provide further protection, making it difficult for a vehicle to weave through.
STREET PLANNERS and architects have been thinking about security enhancements for some years now. In 2010, The Royal Institute for British Architects produced guidelines urging planners to incorporate anti-terrorism measures into building design.
Hence the steps up to the new northern entrance to Reading Station encourage crowds to gather not by the building entrance but above
Giant concrete letters act as a barrier outside Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium