Designed for safety

Everyone wants to feel safe and secure at home. However, building the appropriate security measures into residences can pose challenges. Budgets for locks, high quality doors, security systems and monitoring typically cannot compare with those available for commercial properties, and designers must also balance attractive features, such as large windows that embrace views, or plantings that create privacy against security. As noted by New York architect Barbara Nadel, author of Building Security: Handbook for Architectural Planning and Design, “No one wants to live in an environment that resembles an armed camp.”

However, in an increasingly risk-averse world, residential architects are now building in security from the ground up in today’s homes. Indeed, according to a 2007 survey by research firm Synovate, 28% of Americans believe that security is the most important building feature. Fortunately, architects can draw on many time-honored strategies as well as new technologies when designing homes to keep them safe.

Location, location, location
Architects know that the best building designs are those that are specific to their site and surroundings – and the same is also true of security features. “Architects and developers should consider the neighborhood and adjacent uses, to determine if there are sources of crime, accidents, or other potential threats which may impact the levels of security needed,” observes Barbara Nadel.

The building and landscaping design should then take these factors into account and provide both residents and potential criminals with the feeling that it is secure – an approach which is part of CPTED, or Crime Prevention through Environmental Design, which was developed from studies of housing projects in the 1970s. For example, a home in a gentrifying neighborhood could include visible security cues – such as smaller or fortified windows, steel security doors, strong locks and security camera housings – to send the message that it is a difficult target; these approaches might not be necessary in a more established area. 

Let there be light
Meanwhile, for houses and apartments in busy urban areas, “visibility is key,” notes Nadel. Passersby on busy thoroughfares provide a form of “natural surveillance” when attendants or roving security guards are not feasible. Criminals will be much less likely to act if they feel they can be observed. To create a greater sense of safety both indoors and out, architects can put entranceways where they can be easily seen; have windows overlook parking lots; add walls of glass to vestibules and lobbies; and use shorter fences, amongst other strategies.   

Appropriate lighting design is also essential. “Good lighting around the property, whether for free standing homes, multifamily, or high rise residences, enhances visibility and observation, especially at doors, roof access points, parking areas, and garages,” states Nadel. Fixtures should be placed carefully to avoid creating “blind spots” in places like recycling bin areas or dumpsters, and should not be too bright, to avoid creating glare or overly sharp shadows. 

Once basic issues such as doorway placement and window and lighting design have been addressed, physical and electronic security systems should also be considered. Homeowners can save big if the appropriate wiring for a home security system is added during the construction phase. In addition, attention to strong construction techniques for doors, door frames, and windows can give added strength and protection for the installation of high security locks. All these factors provide homeowners with a big incentive to have their architect incorporate these features into the initial design rather than adding them on later. 

Designers should consider their choice of locks and door hardware for home security, cautions Andrew McGonigle, Construction Project Manager for Northwestern University in Chicago and advisory board member for ARCHI-TECH magazine. “Burglars look for the easiest targets. High security locks that combine both a visible barrier to physical attack, with a high aesthetic design can stop crime before it even begins. In addition, locks and keys that prevent unauthorized duplication help eliminate ‘crimes of opportunity’ from those who have temporary possession to keys and from the hardened criminal attempting to gain access.” 

Someone to watch over you
Since privacy is obviously valued in stand-alone homes, security systems will typically consist of motion and glass-break sensors as well as magnetic contacts that will sound the alarm if there is an intruder. Unfortunately, according to Richard Clarke, Chairman of Good Harbor Consulting and former White House National Security Advisor, these systems can have false alarm rates as high as 95%. 

However, low-cost Web connections are providing a smarter solution. “New video alarm systems allow you or a monitoring service to see whether there really is a problem using Internet connectivity,” says Clarke. Remotely monitored solutions are particularly popular for apartment dwellers: With new ”virtual doorman” systems, remote attendants monitor CCTVs so they can buzz in deliverymen or call the police if residents push a panic button or dangerous conditions are observed. 

Of course, no single security measure can by itself keep a building safe. Instead, as Barbara Nadel observes, “Integrating design strategies will result in the most comprehensive security plans.” All elements – windows and doors, locks and security systems, lighting, landscaping and building maintenance – contribute to a safer home. And the ideal result is the kind of home that experts like Nadel and Clarke strive to create: “Livable communities that are safe and secure, with a high quality of life.” 

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