Any campus-wide design and planning process requires the engagement of a wide range of departments and stakeholders, which can include facility, administration, IT, student services, student life, security and academic departments. Security specialists may be added to the team if the institution feels their insight will bring value. The designer’s role is to then break down silos between these entities with the goal of collaboratively creating a unified plan for campus safety and security.

Campus circulation patterns are a key element in design for campus safety, both controlling and directing patterns of pedestrian and vehicular circulation. The design and planning team collectively maps these patterns—existing roads, sidewalks, bike lanes, bus stops and other vehicular and transit means, but also how pedestrians may create pathways around buildings and across green spaces and natural areas. In addition, sight lines, ‘blind spots’ and potential opportunities for circulation along unplanned paths must be explored and analyzed with the intent of reducing or preventing these situations.

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For example, the former student union building at NC State University was uninviting and monolithic. Rather than walk through the building, which was a safer option, students had been circulating around and behind it, past dumpsters and service areas. Thus, in designing the new Talley Student Union, the old structure was opened from within and lighting and views into the facility now draw students into and through the space.

The intelligence gathered by the team’s process of collective analysis can produce a clear understanding of campus safety needs, while strategies for individual buildings may require additional analysis.

Combined elements articulate safe passage

Design for campus safety involves bringing together landscape, architecture, and wayfinding to naturally control pedestrian circulation and ensure safe passage around, and for, vehicular traffic. As noted, it’s desirable to prevent the ability of pedestrians to pass behind and between buildings or in other ‘blind spots’ that could pose a risk in terms of visibility and their safety.

Various means are used to control pedestrian circulation without being intrusive—natural barriers such as hedges and architectural elements such as screening, low fencing, landmarks and statuary. Building to sidewalks, without landscaping between the building and the circulation path, is an urban strategy that is being incorporated into campus architecture.

Consider pushing parking and vehicular circulation away from the center of campus to foster a more active campus core and prevent outsiders from being able to quickly enter and exit common spaces. Use the architectural and landscape elements noted above to control points of entry.

Densification—the small city model—can help create a close community around active campus centers where sight-lines, or the ability to see and be seen, can be an effective approach in combination with these other tactics. Densification also allows for the overlapping of functions and activities, which extends the life of a building beyond traditional ‘operating hours’ and invites positive community activity.

These strategies for architecture, landscape, infrastructure, traffic, technology and activating community work in concert with traffic, 24/7 surveillance and security systems.

Be smart about lighting

Any open space presents challenges, whether a sidewalk or open campus quad or green space. While a combination of the aforementioned strategies is essential, lighting—interior, exterior, building, pathway and natural—is a primary element in ensuring campus safety.

This means well-lit, planned, open circulation paths with clear signage and points of entry. Increase illumination while reducing the glare and shadows, or dark areas, between well-lit spaces; upgrade signage to ensure pedestrians can reach their destinations easily and directly; install surveillance and blue phone systems; and remove trees or shrubs at building perimeters that might provide hiding spots for intruders.

How campus architecture can improve safety

Champion of street life and community Jane Jacobs wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities in 1961, which is still considered a masterpiece of urban observation and theory advocating “eyes on the street” as the best defense against crime. While Jacobs’ advocacy for empowerment of individuals to be the first line of policing a neighborhood has had its controversies, today, we are all familiar with the phrase “see something, say something.” Thus, lighting design is supplemented with strategies to ensure clear sight lines in and around buildings and within spaces.

Build community

The commonly-known pillars of campus safety include lighting, natural barriers, and security systems. Equally important is building a sense of community across a campus’s population. Plan for and design active social spaces and use transparency for to allow into and out of buildings.

These techniques help reduce the isolation some students experience, build awareness of a campus’s diverse population, and foster a sense of community.

Providing more opportunities for mindfulness, contemplation, wellness and access to nature can help alleviate the tremendous stress students experience being away from home and meeting the demands of university programs.

About the Author:

Turan Duda, FAIA, and Jeffrey Paine, FAIA, founded Duda|Paine Architects in 1997. Their 20 years of practice together has challenged project teams to consider the big picture and bring new ideas from science, art and the humanities to architecture. At the core of their every interaction is respect for others, appreciation for diversity, and a belief that compassion is fundamental to building design.