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The Committee on Architecture for Education (CAE) is a large and active group of architects and allied professionals concerned with the quality and design of all types of educational, cultural, and recreational facilities.

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School Safety: One Architect's Personal Journey

  • 1.  School Safety: One Architect's Personal Journey

    Posted 03-23-2018 12:54
    Hi all,

    Please check out my thoughts on school safety and the architecture community's response - this is part 1 of a 2 part series. Part 1 is my own personal journey and Part 2 looks at a case study project based in Washington, D.C.

    As an architect who has been personally impacted by school violence, I've been delighted to see our community step up in defense of thoughtful, balanced and meaningful school design. These conversations need to continue and we need to become better equipped as a field at discussing such a sensitive topic - if only to be able to respond to questions from clients, protect the rights of our children to receive a dignified education, and to comfort concerned families.

    Jenine Kotob
    Quinn Evans Architects- DC
    Washington DC

  • 2.  RE: School Safety: One Architect's Personal Journey

    Posted 03-26-2018 18:59
    Great article, Jenine! Sorry though that it was so deeply informed by your own personal tragedy.

    John Clark
    Cordogan Clark & Associates, Inc.
    Chicago IL

  • 3.  RE: School Safety: One Architect's Personal Journey

    Posted 03-27-2018 22:35

    First of all, I am sorry to hear about your experiences with school violence.  It is something no one should endure.  For this reason I too have dedicated my professional career to trying to make a difference and to help prevent school violence.  After many years in the profession I decided to switch gears and engage in research on this topic.  In the wake of Sandy Hook, I asked if there was something that we as architects can do to help prevent this from occurring?  Can't we design an entrance that stops someone who shouldn't be there?  Of course we can.  How we do that in a sensitive manner is the real design problem.  CPTED is one way to approach the problem to design better schools.  Although primarily a criminology theory, the key aspect of CPTED is to utilize the built environment to eliminate criminal threat, yet those who practice CPTED are rarely trained in design.  As architects we are best poised to use our design capabilities with a proper understanding of some of the CPTED strategies, such as natural surveillance.  Currently my research is aimed at examining how entrances may foster or hinder detection, delay, and denial of entry.  I am at my early stages.  Unfortunately few if any people are conducting research in this area.  Society is focused on either gun control or mental health, but in between there is room to examine how architecture plays a role, whether it is good or bad while the other debates rage on.  I have had discussions with architects who do K-12 school work and they have commented that many of their clients don't take security as seriously as they should because "it will never happen to us."  How many of your clients possess this attitude?  I suspect it may be too many and more likely in rural areas, as these architects have mentioned to me.  While I was in practice security in any type of project was never discussed.  At all.  Our schools ignore the issue because it is too scary and thus we are left with a profession that is essentially ignorant to the basics of incorporating passive security strategies into our designs.  We are in a unique position to inform the client about security issues if we understand some of these CPTED strategies.  They are not particularly difficult and as you stated, can enhance the performance of students if done correctly.  The design too.  We like to say "Design Matters", and it does.  How we design a school to create an environment that inspires as well as protects is an awesome thing to do.

    I would like to see your master's research on schools in conflict zones if you don't mind.  It sounds fascinating.


    Michael S. Nowak, AIA, NCARB, CPHC, NCIDQ
    Ph.D. Student
    Department of Architecture
    Pennsylvania State University
    107 Stuckeman Family Building
    University Park. PA 16802

  • 4.  RE: School Safety: One Architect's Personal Journey

    Posted 03-28-2018 18:45

    I, too, am researching issues of school facility security measures and would like to see both of your studies plus would like to share mine for peer review once I have written it. 

    Carter Davis Bagg AIA, AICP, LEED AP
    ESD 112 Construction Services Group
    Phone: 425-213-4486
    This electronic message contains information from Construction Services Group.  The contents may be privileged and confidential and are for the use of the intended addressee(s) only.  If you are not an intended addressee, note that any disclosure, copying, distribution, or use of the contents of this message is prohibited.  If you have received this email in error, please delete the original email and contact me at

  • 5.  RE: School Safety: One Architect's Personal Journey

    Posted 03-28-2018 23:50
    Thanks Jenine for sharing that article. It was on point, for sure. I saw the comments about CPTED and research and had to jump in on the conversation. I've posted some of my comments below in another school safety thread, so pardon the repetition.

    I certainly agree that CPTED and other strategies for designing out crime are only one factor in violence prevention, and that other major issues such as bullying and gun control need to be addressed in other non-design ways, but design can make a difference, which makes it absolutely worthy of discussion.

    My non-architect perspective as a school psychologist is that by promoting mental health and psychosocial outcomes we can impact school climate, or the overall social environment. By using design to create more sense of community, foment a shared social identity for the student body, and make the school built environment psychologically comfortable, we can reduce bullying and promote mental health and social cohesion. Those are things that will have a real impact on school violence. But how do we provide safe school design that allows for emphasis on psychosocial goals? I think CPTED allows for meeting both of those needs, as your comments have highlighted.

    What I think design research should also focus more on is student perceptions and their internal experience of safety and mental wellness in school environments, again because promoting psychological wellbeing is just as important as protecting school grounds from external threats.

    I just finished my dissertation research which looked at the most basic questions about CPTED that researchers have not asked yet, and that is "How do students feel about CPTED school designs?" and "Would they feel safer and/or more psychologically comfortable in schools designed with CPTED?" I am currently working on a white paper for AIA that will discuss how CPTED can meet students' need for both sense of safety and psychological comfort, which will include results of my research. Keep an eye out for that white paper; and if you're interested I can send you more info about my research which I'll also be publishing this year (just reach out to me here on the AIA network).

    My general finding is that students indeed prefer CPTED-based school designs, and that they prefer them for the perceived safety they afford as well as psychological comfort. Student open-ended comments certainly were polarized in terms of what they thought about fencing and large windows (for natural surveillance), but a majority leaned towards preferring CPTED principles.

    To you who have posted in this thread, it sounds like we have overlapping research interests and should talk some time!

    Lastly, if you're interested in selling the importance of CPTED to your clients, here's a brand new published article from folks at the CDC. They found that higher adherence to CPTED principles in school design is associated with less violence and higher sense of safety in those schools. Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) Characteristics Associated With Violence and Safety in Middle Schools. - PubMed - NCBI
    Nih remove preview
    Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) Characteristics Associated With Violence and Safety in Middle Schools. - PubMed - NCBI
    J Sch Health. 2018 Apr;88(4):296-305. doi: 10.1111/josh.12609.
    View this on Nih >

    Daniel Lamoreaux, PhD
    School Psychologist
    Sunnyside Unified School District
    Tucson, Arizona

  • 6.  RE: School Safety: One Architect's Personal Journey

    Posted 03-30-2018 09:25
    Thank you all for your comments and insights in response to my short piece. I especially appreciate the newest research on CPTED implementation. Part of my frustration with the discussions on school safety have been the lack of concrete data and statistics. It would be great if those who have access can continue to share more science-based research with this community.

    For those interested, here is part II of my two part piece on school safety. This second article is a case study that focuses on a recently completed school project, in which I was on the design team.

    Jenine Kotob
    Quinn Evans Architects- DC
    Washington DC