The broad elements of architecture were briefly described by the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius, “In the prescription that buildings should provide Commodity, Firmness and Delight”.
Commodity addresses the spatial and functional utility of a building. Firmness addresses the building’s ability to resist natural forces. Delight relates to the sensory and associative pleasures buildings can provide—their meaning.
Architecture means many things to many people. While it is both the process and product of planning, it is often perceived as cultural symbols and as works of art. Many past civilizations are often remembered by their surviving architectural achievements.
Today as the builders of the future, we have many things to consider when discussing Architecture. But most greatly, how does an architectural structure and its components affect those who live, work and play in those spaces. What volumes does a structure communicate, and what does it suggest?
From the onset, the selection of materials does appear to convey meaning to us, whatever choice is made. A glass building can, for example, mean transparency and honesty, while an opaque building may deliver privacy and concealment. Tall buildings have always been expressions of power; colorful buildings can mean levity and whimsy. The building’s activities can be shown or concealed, as can the means by which the building operates, like structure and mechanical systems.
For stress mitigating properties, interior features can include larger vistas in shared spaces, sound-absorbing surfaces to reduce noise, calming courtyard gardens, views of nature out of windows, curved walls, tactile surfaces and designs that can offer more natural light to enter spaces.
For the reduction of blind spots, the use of vision panels on doors, open stairs when appropriate, and partial glass walls highlight visibility.
Architectural solutions can also reduce fear in larger community areas; by eliminating graffiti which increases fear and the notion of crime. Graffiti resistant paints and stains can remove vandalous opportunity, additionally the implementation of landscaping techniques can act as deterrent, such as the planting of prickly bushes near walls. If architectural techniques are employed which persuade people to congregate outside it will make graffiti more difficult to place on walls and this can significantly improve the overall community morale.
Lighting adds beauty to any space and it is also a great way to reduce crime and minimize violence. Lighting can increase visibility, deter criminal acts by reducing spaces to hide. Gardens and park spaces surrounding buildings could also increase use and provide a serene environment with benches and possibly local history or natural wildlife directories.
Slowing traffic patterns around buildings also provides for multiuse walks such as the beautifully landscaped “Woonerf”, described as a living street, originally implemented in the Netherlands. These areas encourage shared space between pedestrians and cars; provide traffic calming and reinforce low speed limits.
Architectural solutions can provide safe designs to eliminate stress, reduce crime and violence, but architects must adhere to regulation imposed by central building and construction departments of town and cities. Many safety codes are reviewed daily in the avoidance of incident, but on occasion we must understand that building and construction code(s) may sadly play a part in crime development, by creating perfect breeding grounds for such crime and violence.
Building codes are meant to protect and safeguard health, property and public welfare. However, there are building and fire codes used today that can preclude or even prohibit the use of architectural techniques that may indeed prevent crime.
In parking facilities as an example, building and fire code can adopt specific rules that can amplify crime rates, such as requiring height limits on lighting poles which decrease illumination, encourage types of landscaping that can hide attacker(s), and also the requirement of enclosed exit stairs which limits public view. There are many fire code requirements where stairwells are virtually sealed off. This reduces and may completely eliminate the possibility of visual or auditory monitoring of activity in the stairwells. Unfortunately fire stairs are a prime area in which a high percentage of rapes occur, and where narcotics addicts deal and do drugs.
Architecture and technology can be deployed in these cases in many ways that can both protect the public and minimize crime. These scenarios must be evaluated for the overall safety, and compliance of code.
It is also possible to add Crime Impact Studies to the Environmental Impact Studies. These studies would provide the data for awareness of the need to reduce violence and crime, thereby affording a safer more resilient neighborhood and community.
Crime, violence and the spiral of decay in neighborhoods are challenges that can be overcome. Crime, and those acts of aggression and violence can be greatly reduced if we can implement technology, identify placement, remove existing limiting code barriers, and incorporate stress-reducing design into architectural practice.