Balancing Physical Security and Aesthetics


01 Mar, 2024

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    01 Mar, 2024

    With an increase in pedestrianised spaces and placemaking throughout the world, planners have been given an opportunity to look at urban spaces differently; from designing fresh and exciting areas specifically for pedestrians to changing the way that existing town and city centres look and operate.

    However, with this new opportunity comes a new responsibility, both for urban designers and councils/venue operators. For when we encourage people to gather – by creating pedestrian zones – there comes the implicit responsibility to ensure safety and security for users.

    When designing or redesigning spaces, planners need to consider ways to mitigate potential hostile vehicle attacks and ensure pedestrian security. This can be achieved through the implementation of physical security products, for example bollards which have been tested to withstand vehicular impact. These are designed to mitigate hostile vehicle attacks and can reduce risks by providing a deterrent and impact-tested protection in the unlikely event of a vehicle attack.

    But how do you successfully implement the necessary security measures without compromising on area aesthetics?


    So, do aesthetics have to give way to a “fortress mentality”?

    As with any urban planning project, thinking about the implementation of security can mean making compromise on aesthetics – after all, crash-tested bollards are visible structures that might not fit an architect’s vision of a space. However, keeping the public safe should always be one of the primary concerns, and so finding a balance between the two is crucial for any project’s viability.

    The three considerations below offer a simple guide to ensuring the right security whilst achieving an aesthetic balance.


    In security design, “process” refers to the considerations between security risk, aesthetics, and user considerations. This must include thinking about how proportionate a project is and how it justifies its cost, but also how each of the threads come together to make a project work best. This stage involves thinking about the project in the broadest possible terms, involving designers, architects, and security consultants to uncover any concerns that each might have about the aesthetic-security-operational balance.


    The second step to balancing the security and aesthetic concerns is working out the proportionality to balance a project’s threat vs risk score. This can help to guide the balance between aesthetics, usability, and security robustness, hopefully finding an acceptable level for each factor. Security consultants work with developers and architects during this stage to determine a level of security that not only keeps the public safe, but can also live up to the architect’s and designer’s expectations.


    The final consideration to ensure that the security and design principles don’t impede each other is that people are at the heart of everything to do with projects. Making sure that the right people are brought in at the right stages to be able to start the conversations early is key to finding the right balance.


    Finding the balance

    Finding the right balance between security and aesthetics can be easy when the competing factors are managed successfully, and that compromise is found early in the process. Every project should have public safety at the heart, and bringing in a security consultant and expert product manufacturers to start the conversation about what needs to be done can help to define the art of the possible.

    Likewise, it is vital to look at the security of a specific area holistically, bringing in different stakeholders to develop a wider scheme. This can help to reduce the visual impact of security measures, rather than creating a ring of steel, while ensuring that a wider area is secured; this averts the problem of stakeholders failing to work together and focusing on boundaries.

    Other tactics, such as changing road layouts by creating narrower lanes and adding chicanes to reduce vehicle speed, can contribute to security scheme cleverly without hindering the look or feel of an area. The lower the speed and the smaller the vehicle able to gain access to a space, the slimmer and smaller the measures that may need to be deployed.

    Finally, some dual-purpose measures can be incorporated into the landscape. So, for example, crash rated bollards might be used as cycle stands, planters and bins. Effective planning can help to minimise street clutter and integrate these items as and where they’re considered appropriate.