Perceptions of physical security design

To understand the most pressing physical security concerns into the future and how best to prepare, Jacksons Fencing has commissioned original research among industry professionals to get a clearer picture of what is and might be. Here, Managing Director, Peter Jackson, talks us through the findings.


Our research shows that respondents implement measures primarily to make people feel safe (54%) and deter potential attackers with a secure appearance (47%). This suggests that for around half of respondents, the perception of physical security, whether by potential attackers or staff, is as important as the security measures actually protecting people (43%) and preventing unauthorised access (45%). This highlights the importance of designing with security in mind to contribute to a reassuring aesthetic.

Is security considered in the design of building and spaces?

Security and building design can and should work in tandem, but there’s a worrying knowledge gap within the architectural community. Almost half admitted to having limited or even poor knowledge of designing for physical security, while only two in five architects stated that while their knowledge of designing for physical security is good, there is room for improvement. These findings highlight there is significant work to be done to educate specifiers and planners about best practices in security. Whether for safety, deterring malicious attacks, preventing unauthorised access, safeguarding reputation or aesthetics, the physical security of a building should always be considered as an integral part of the design.

Architects are expected to incorporate appropriate security requirements into their designs. Where practicable, this should be delivered seamlessly, without drawing undue attention to potential threats. People, rightly, expect to feel safe day-to-day.

This in itself demands a disciplined approach often requiring specialist risk and security consultants to ensure effective implementation. However, over a quarter of architects surveyed indicate they don’t employ these professionals.

Further, 21% of architects highlighted that security experts are not involved until the end of the design process, or after the design is complete. While some consultation is taking place, it needs to take place earlier to be effective. Delays could result in solutions being added retrospectively, not only resulting in unnecessary costs but also disruption.

Barriers to physical security in design

76% of architects cite that budget constraints lead to cutting corners with physical security. It is clear many undervalue the importance of appropriate physical security. The consequences of corner-cutting often result in inadequate security measures, potentially leading to serious breaches and costly updates. This has been well documented through inadequately financed prison security upgrades, particularly the failure of CCTV capabilities at high-security sites.

Access to and knowledge of physical security best practice is an issue. Architects identify finding relevant information and possessing requisite skills (47%) and clients’ limited knowledge of security products (23%) as hindrances to implementing effective physical security design.

When it is available, current guidance and specifications are largely based on the learnings from past events. Erika Gemmell, Director at Scott Brownrigg explains the importance of adapting to protect against newer threats: “Guidance on standoff distances has been significantly influenced by the IRA’s van attacks [but] today we have to design with modern threats in mind, such as suicide bombs.”

Ken Graham, Principal Consultant at Instrom, notes that many agencies are “focusing more on their statutory duties and withdrawing from complimentary services which could provide enhanced protection”.

This box-ticking approach results in bare minimum security and detracts from effective, risk-appropriate physical security solutions.

Is safe, secure and stylish achievable?

For architects, achieving aesthetic appeal can act as an obstacle to specifying risk-appropriate physical security as practices are often required to make a site both inviting and safe.

For over two-thirds of respondents, aesthetics remain a high priority. While naturally an important consideration, they can increase the cost of physical security solutions when required to subtly integrate into a design without detracting from it. This can have a detrimental influence on the project decision-maker who, rather than reaching a compromise, might fail to commit to anything at all.

However, physical security doesn’t have to create intimidating or fortress-like sites. Simple, innovative solutions can have a significant impact on safety, without impeding the flow of people or compromising the area’s visual appeal.

The majority of architects polled (73%) have used unobtrusive design elements to encourage behaviour conducive to creating a secure environment without exceeding set budgets. This includes using colour and floor plans to support wayfinding, designing out dark spaces or hidden corners to discourage anti-social behaviour and incorporating more windows.

Safety and security need to be considered synchronously. This means understanding that while a perimeter needs to maintain security at all times, architects and specifiers should also consider the area immediately outside the building. This gives weight to the argument that conducting an early risk assessment, followed by designing escape routes and protective measures into the site masterplan is essential.

The potentially devastating effect of attacks on sites designed without these considerations can be seen in events such as the Manchester Arena attacks and at the shooting in France’s Bataclan. Gemmell thinks our whole attitude to security needs an overhaul: “Security and high-quality building design ideally would be tied together, just like what happened with sustainability measures over the past 15 years, creating an integrated aesthetic solution.”

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