Beautifully safe

David Pringle of Bailey Street Furniture Group says that as we venture out to town centres as lockdown eases, sadly the continued terrorism threat means a focus on aesthetic features with hidden security capability

Many cities across the globe are redefining their urban policies as they face the increasing fear of terrorist attacks. Just as we all tentatively venture out post-lockdown and find a new outdoor life, the concept of shopping, open spaces, festivals, and outdoor events are less appealing, in light of the above threat. Our urban spaces need security requirements and procedures to reassure and protect users.

During the last five years 4,000 terrorist attacks took place and caused nearly 32,000 fatalities globally. Terrorist attacks typically take place in cities and other built up areas where they can successfully cause maximum impact and loss of life. They aim to destroy the very fabric of culture, constrain our freedom, and make our city life one of fear.

The Government has been employing architects to redesign the public realm in British cities and buildings to create bollards and barriers that can block terrorists who intend to use vehicles and bombs. It is crucial that city life can continue unabated.

Over recent years the Government has developed various ‘impact standards’ and ‘defensive’ approaches; hiding measures have become the norm. Using design features to engineer security is becoming standard in ordinary buildings as well as high profile locations. Many architects integrate hidden barriers into their new buildings and offer retrofit for existing properties.

Disguised bollards and barriers are an important part of making buildings secure, and impact tested steel reinforcements can now be found inside a wide range of different street furniture including planters, bus stops and street lighting. So while these features may appear as though they have been designed with aesthetics in mind, they are actually serving an important purpose. Once you start looking for them, these protective features can be found everywhere!

An alternative approach Following attacks in Barcelona and many other European cities, Italian architect Stefano Boeri – best known for his green plant covered buildings – suggested that our cities take an alternative approach to vehicle mitigation. Cities, he believes, should be redesigned to include trees and bulky planters overflowing with greenery rather than stark concrete barriers.

Boeri: “A big pot full of soil has the same resistance to a Jersey , but it can host a tree – a living being that offers shadow, absorbs the dust, subtle pollutants and CO2, as well as producing oxygen, and accommodates birds.”

It is thought that planting would integrate better with our monuments and historic architecture as seen temporarily on London Bridge following the vehicle attack in June 2017. The ‘mitigation planters’ separated the footpath from the six lanes of traffic that crosses the bridge, protecting city users.

Green spaces are vital for everyone, and we all feel the benefit. A beautifully designed green landscape combined with clever street furniture design offers not only a great use of space but creates the opportunity to add security measures with an additional aesthetic quality often missing in hard concrete design. Successful green areas and abundant planting can improve morale and productivity of city workers through psychological benefits, and far beyond.

For urban planning to be successful it is important that design, technology and security work hand in hand. Public safety is continual, the impact of terrorist threats constant. So the need to design public spaces in order to reduce this risk and to minimise the impact of vehicular attacks is at the forefront. Street furniture has to be designed to serve all purposes. Both protection and aesthetics are key.

Responding to this demand, we designed a flexible, modular retaining wall system for creating raised planting schemes in our urban and city environment. Designed for easy installation, the modules are intended for all areas of our cityscape, from courtyards to roads and shopping areas to recreational spaces.

A reinforced structure designed for ‘Hostile Vehicle Mitigation can offer both security and protection to pedestrians and infrastructure without compromising the aesthetic value of a residential or commercial area. It is possible to secure our cityscapes without sacrificing both the beauty and identity of our urban environment.

The standard system has recently been utilised in expanding outdoor spaces for hospitality establishments along Elizabeth Street in Victoria, Central London. The planters were specified to provide a contained sense of calm amidst the bustling surroundings, maintaining the street’s ‘village’ ambience.

David Pringle is managing director of the Bailey Street Furniture Group