Security and building design: A decade of change and adaptation

Published 4 January 2010

The cumulative influence of major building security-related events — the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, the 1996, the destruction of the Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, the Oklahoma City bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building happened in 1995, and the 2001 attack on the Twin Towers – have led architects and engineers to rethink building security

As we head into 2010, within the design and construction industry the two hot concerns, when it comes to building design, are security and environmental sustainability. What a difference a decade makes, according to author and architect Barbara A. Nadel, who specializes in building security, planning, and design.

Computerworld’s Joan Goodchild writes that Nadel, who heads up the firm Barbara Nadel Architect, in New York City, remembers when security and green design were mainly an afterthought. This has all changed in a post-9/11 world.

Nadel, who also served as editor-in-chief of Building Security: Handbook for Architectural Planning and Design, spoke with CSO about how building architecture has evolved tremendously in the last decade, and why security is now a paramount concern before ground is even broken.

Goodchild asked Nadel how did she first become interested in security with regard to building design and architecture. Nadel responded that she formed her architectural firm in 1992. Before that, she had been working mainly in healthcare and institutional design. During the 1990s, there was need for healthcare planning in the prison system and, through that, she got into correctional facility planning and design. “I’ve been very active with the American Institute of Architects (AIA) for many years,” Nadel said. “I was 2001 AIA National vice president, during the events of 9/11. After 9/11, I realized there was no single security resource for the design and construction industry, especially for architects, engineers, facility managers, consultants, and building owners seeking guidance on security design in the post-9/11 world. Terrorism and crime had been around for a long time, but after 9/11, things changed. With that in mind, I put together a group of national experts in various fields, and wrote Building Security: Handbook for Architectural Planning and Design.”

Here are a few more questions and answers.

Goodchild: The book has been read around the world and has done very well. Had people in the security and design industries been seeking this kind of security and design knowledge for a while? Or was it really the concerns of a post-9/11 world that prompted the popularity of the book?

Nadel: There were several benchmark events before 9/11, impacting U.S. facilities at home and abroad. Most of them occurred at government-owned buildings. The 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, was the first incident of a truck bomb used to destroy a building. In 1996, the destruction of the Khobar Towers