Architecture and Security

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I remember visiting Chandigarh and being saddened by the level of security at the Capitol Complex. Le Corbusier’s sculptural buildings were sandbagged and protected heavily with machine-gun toting security guards. The vast expanse of the central plaza between the Assembly Building and the High Court was interrupted by a barb wire fence that looked not only ungainly but reminded you of a turbulent past. Punjab was hit by a period of insurgency that has now totally disappeared but such remanants of architecture tainted by security measures have now remained as a permanent fixture like almost an unseperable appendage.

I had participated in a design competition that asked for a reconceptualization of the unbuilt Governor’s Palace. We had integrated the adjoining plaza as a gathering place to represent the exuberance of Punjab and its jolly people. We wanted the re-use of the feudal structure to be as democratic as possible. But I bet this was looked down upon purely from the perspective of security. The city could not trust its own citizens.

Bruce Schneier writes on a similar theme about architecture and security. His examples are a stark reminder of the cautious nature of man protecting the people against a threat that might not even exist:

When Syracuse University built a new campus in the mid-1970s, the student protests of the late 1960s were fresh on everybody’s mind. So the architects designed a college without the open greens of traditional college campuses. It’s now 30 years later, but Syracuse University is stuck defending itself against an obsolete threat.Concrete building barriers are an exception: They’re removable. They started appearing in Washington, D.C., in 1983, after the truck bombing of the Marines barracks in Beirut. After 9/11, they were a sort of bizarre status symbol: They proved your building was important enough to deserve protection.

It is indeed sad to see security triumph architectural aesthetics or even functionality. Vulnerable countries like India and Israel have often lived with a constant threat and such security-first architecture is almost expected and taken for granted.