Landscape Architecture – Site as Security


Laurie Olin: Security has
become a huge topic for those who design, especially
for the government and especially for
the public realm. It wasn’t just 9/11, it started
actually with the bombing in Oklahoma City
and then the couple of embassies in Africa.
So the federal government has been very concerned about
security for quite a while. And, it’s a serious problem,
internationally and nationally. And the first
response was a terrible defensive one on the
part of almost all of us. Marion Pressley: It happened so
quickly that the solution was the Jersey barrier and
basically they were things that we had available to us.
They were the kinds of things that could be brought into
place, slapped down and nobody could
get through them. Charles Birnbaum: Being a
Washingtonian, I live in the city
and so I remember at one point where I started
counting bollards after September 11th,
a decade ago. And it got to the point where it
was impossible to do. And so I think that
the ideal scenario is when you’re dealing with the issue of
security these should not be pu-pu platter solutions that
just come out of a catalogue. They should be site specific and
nuanced and they should be as subordinated
as humanly possible. Laurie Olin: A couple of us
began thinking, wait a minute this is not a new problem.
This is an old problem. It goes back almost to the stone
age where we were trying to keep the animals in and the
lions and tigers out. We’ve been doing this from, you
know, railings and fences to doors and castle walls.
It dawned on me that one had to
somehow figure out how to take security devices and
use them to leverage some benefit or amenity
in the public realm. And my first chance to try that
was at the Washington Monument…
Charles Birnbaum: You see there very site specific solutions
where the landscape has the ability to absorb,
in what almost feels like an effortless fashion,
the ability to provide security. Laurie Olin: So I was trying to
think what to do and it dawned on me that around the
U.S. Capitol there were these beautiful walls that the
Holmstead firm had done. They direct traffic and they
have this nice sort of grading behind them and
they’re handsome and it dawned on me that well,
the answer is right there, we could have these nice low
walls and people could sit on them to
watch the softball games, but cars going at a high speed
or trucks full of bombs aren’t going to get to the
Washington Monument. So the notion that
you could actually design furniture or you could
through a combination of things enhance the
pedestrian environment instead of make it seem like it’s full
of tank traps, if you could make it so it
wasn’t all negative, but these were welcoming things
in the public realm that they could use or that were
attractive that seemed to me, that’s the game.
Shane Coen: I think any time today if we’re asked to do
anything, let’s say we were asked to create a
wall, a barrier wall. We need to think of that as a
piece of art, you know. How can we tell the story? How
can we make that evocative? Does it need to be a wall?
Can it be a landform? Can it be a different
sort of system? Mary Margaret Jones: Storm water
management can become a feature that’s also the
security of the building. Topography can become a feature
that also becomes a part of the answer for security of a
federal complex. So it saves money.
Our medium is all of the above and
it makes a better result in the long run.
Charles Birnbaum: I think that every space, every city,
every community is different and so I think the challenge
is not to sort of create something that’s so rigid
but to have the opportunity to really read the landscape
and understand the community to guide change in
dealing with security. Mary Margaret Jones: And so
often if we’re brought in too late, then the issue of
security becomes the picket fence of bollards that is not
friendly to anyone, costs a lot of money,
they don’t look good over time, you know,
they’re hard to maintain. And so to think of security as
embedded in a landscape idea from the beginning is a much
better way than thinking of securing a project
once you’ve already envisioned that project.
Pat O’Donnell: So the question is how can you integrate
the notion of security in a way that makes the landscape feel
right and feel like there’s still music playing,
like there’s still the appropriate movements and the
appropriate perceptions and you’re not saying oops,
just went through the security barrier.
Tom Leader: All I have to say about security is that
resistance is futile. You got to embrace it, you got
to move into it and express it in ways that are not
superficial, that they’re integral to the whole
conception of the place.

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