Could Fortress-Like Schools Prevent Shootings?

The mass shooting at Newton, Connecticut brought gun control, violence in TV and video games, and mental health care to the forefront of a national debate. As talk turns to school design, architects consider the tradeoffs of fortress-like schools.
January 2, 2013, 7am PST | Erica Gutiérrez
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Since the mass school shooting in Columbine, Colorado in 1999, metal detectors and routinely locked doors are a ubiquitous part of school design, reports C. J. Hughes, and some feel this may be sending the wrong message to students. “Buildings tell stories, and when a building is designed [with bars and other fortifying techniques], it tells you that it doesn’t trust you. And kids intuit that they’re not trusted,” says Mark Simon, a founding partner of Centerbrook Architects and Planners, who has designed 20 school buildings. He adds that, in contrast, open designs and layouts may actually improve visibility and security at schools.

“In recent years,” writes Hughes, “glass has become the material of choice for the walls of many schools, which have cottoned to the idea that students will be more stimulated in rooms bathed in natural light." Fortified schools with "thick concrete walls, windows with bars, and special security vestibules may be more defensible," but would run counter to this trend and the learning needs of students. 

Though designs that provide increased safety through visibility may provide a possible alternative for deterring crime in places of learning, they are no silver bullet. Architectural curator, Thomas Mellins says, “I don’t think safety concerns translate into a simple and direct agenda, like build this way, don’t build that way.” And, Jerry Waters, of Portland, Oregon’s Dull Olson Weekes Architects, adds, “When someone has the intent to kill, I’m not sure if architecture can solve that problem.”

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Published on Friday, December 21, 2012 in Architectural Record
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