Why Security is Integral to Building Design

The Indian Concept of Security

Once we have constructed a well-designed building with a remarkable aesthetic appeal, what do we do for its security? Before putting it to use, we post a few security guards at the gate for some entry checks with a CCTV system to aid them. And we feel we have secured our building. Hold on! Such an approach to security is amateurish, to say the least, and not the most economical at that.

Besides the many other pitfalls it can fall a prey to, costing the facility dearly in terms of loss of life and property, fall in profits, or disruption of operations, an approach like this misses the cardinal point—security is a critical part of the building design process; it is not an isolated concept; and it's not something mounted on to the building after it is constructed. Unfortunately, that’s how we look at security in India.

Security – an important aspect of architectural design

The primary task of an architect is commonly understood to be to know the needs of the builder, the intended day-to-day use of the facility, requirements of fire safety, perhaps of an earthquake, and the aesthetics, and then design a building that satisfies all these elements.

No provision is generally made for the threat of an armed attack. Or sabotage. Or other lesser forms of terrorism, or even local crime, agitations, or law and order problems. Well, that may not be the owner’s priority, so not an architect’s concern. Thus, an important aspect of architectural design—security—is generally not addressed, and the facility is left exposed to the whims of the terrorist and the criminal, or at the mercy of law enforcement agencies.

The Design Process

An architect true to his profession must design high quality buildings that last through natural disasters and the modern day threats of extreme forms of violence, buildings that are iconic and speak for the architect. Inclusion of security elements in the design process, therefore, is of prime importance in addition to those relating to its functions, its aesthetics, and safety. As the accompanying diagram shows, the design process must integrate these four elements to achieve a whole building design.

In their primer on Building Security: An Architect’s Guide, Walter Cooper and Robert DeGrazio strike a note of caution:

Waiting till the last stages of the design process to begin thinking about security system requirements can spell trouble for budgets and construction schedules, and is a very sure way to guarantee that the system installed will be less than optimal.

If the builders or facility owners are loath to the imperatives of security design, architects must take the initiative and sensitize them about the long-term costs. As a professional group, they can together create awareness about the issue amongst the builders’ bodies and their own clientele. The silver lining is that such security consciousness has begun to be seen amongst certain more perceptive and forward-looking organizations.

Here are the reasons why security must be integrated to the architectural design of buildings.

Why do we build? To get shelter from the elements, rains, storms, temperature extremes, scorching sunlight, etc. But also for the sake of safety and security.2 If fire protection is a factor in design, why not security, particularly with the current level of terrorist threat in India, inspired and aided by foreign extremist groups? What would be the security needs of the building’s users in such a scenario? If Americans can learn their lessons from 9/11 by standardizing security norms in building construction, why can’t we, from 26/11 and others? And this applies not only to government buildings, but also to all buildings frequented by the public, whether high-rise or campus style, institutional or industrial, to malls, restaurants, bars, clubs, hotels, healthcare facilities, and others.

Security is interconnected not only with other design elements like functional requirements, safety and aesthetics, but also with other systems. Power failure may throw sensitive areas of the facility into darkness, disable alarm systems, and cause risk of intrusion at night. So, installing power back up systems a security consideration. Perfect communication systems are indispensable for effective security management. Electronic entry by employees links security directly to computer systems. Thus most of the systems a building will use are inter-dependent and must be planned simultaneously.

Criminal activities (by insider or outsider), theft of property or information, interception of services, vandalism or malevolent acts by individuals or groups or unions in reaction to real or perceived grievances, are lesser but pervasive threats to all buildings in India, particularly those open to public access. Such threats need solutions at the initial stage of architectural design of the building rather than as an afterthought.

It is cost-effective. If security needs of the building are identified in advance and addressed at the planning stages, it would prove to be more economical than having to modify the building or its systems after its construction. Retrofitting is “complex, costly, and disruptive”.

Emergencies, both natural and man-made, must be addressed during the design process in order to mitigate later-day damage to life, property and information. Architectural attention is often confined to natural disasters; human threats are generally ignored. But likelihood of a terrorist strike, or a car-bomb attack, a hostage-taking situation, or a similar emergency, would dictate that the building’s physical security needs must be integrated with the building’s design from the outset, like stand off distance, location of parking area, flow of vehicles and employees, need of an emergency shelter, provision of egress points, location of storage for valuable equipment or hazardous materials, or of the main data centre, or protection of critical services, etc., so as to blend with the overall design.

Security Design Approach

A security design approach aims at adding protective physical features in natural and built environments to the design of a building. It is a proactive approach that anticipates and then protects the building, its occupants, resources, structure, and continuity of operations from multiple threats. This can be done after a critical assessment of risk to a facility.

How This Approach Manages Risk

For risk assessment and risk management, we need to know what is to be protected, what are the threats, what is the likelihood of occurrence of each threat and its consequences, what are the available mitigation options in respect of each threat, which of them is the most cost-effective and can mitigate risk to an acceptable level, etc. Security design elements are then discussed with stakeholders, decided upon, and integrated into its overall architectural design.

The Security Design Consultant

For introducing security elements into a building’s design, an architect needs the expertise of a security design consultant, having sufficient security experience in physical security operations, who can help integrate into the design of a building security features matching its vulnerabilities, suggest ways in which it can be done in a cost-effective manner, without compromising its functionality or openness. It’s here that EnGarde Security Consulting can provide you with the expertise you need.

Winston Churchill once said, "We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us." Come, let's design our buildings that are not only beautiful but keep us safe and protected.


1 Building Security: An Architect’s Guide, by Walter Cooper and Robert DeGrazio.

2 Security by Design, a primer to NCARB’s monograph Security Planning and Design, page 2.

3 Sarelle T Weisberg, FAIA, a New York architect. Quoted in Building Security: Handbook for Architectural Planning and Design by Barbara A. Nadel, FAIA page 1.8