Frustrated by the political deadlock over gun control, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) is campaigning for new design thinking to be employed to avert, and mitigate against the impact of, school shootings.
It proposes no specific design features, but has launched a bipartisan push on Capitol Hill, calling for architectural services to be made available within schools’ existing budgets, and for a repository of good school design practices also to be made available.
"For two decades, architects have worked with school communities racked by tragedy to develop better strategies in school design," said AIA President Carl Elefante.
"While public discourse on access to firearms and mental health services remains deadlocked, the power of design can improve school safety now."
The campaign involved architect Jay Brotman, who designed the new Sandy Hook Elementary school – completed in 2016 after the 2012 massacre there – giving testimony this month to senior White House cabinet members.
Acknowledging that no single approach could fit all schools, Brotman said a school’s security characteristics must be "invisible" to avoid a fortress feeling, in which a sense of openness and community is lost.
At Sandy Hook this included using windows to increase natural surveillance, so teachers can see what is happening around the school more easily, and a gradual, guarded approach from the main road, reported Curbed magazine.
"The primary goal is to provide an inspiring, healthy environment that promotes learning," said Brotman, who is partner at Svigals + Partners. "Security features, while vital and necessary, should be as invisible as possible and incorporated into the school’s design. Failing to do so puts children’s education, emotional development and pro-social behaviour at risk."
Releasing the AIA statement, titled "Where we stand: School design and student safety", Elefante said: "AIA is committed to working with stakeholders and officials to make schools safer while building the positive, nurturing, learning environments we all want for our children."
The AIA has compiled a list of academic school design safety resources here.
Image: A school hallway (Dreamstime/Ken Cole)