In recent years, discussions surrounding school safety and security have gained significant traction. Unfortunately, the prevailing approach often leans towards measures that create environments reminiscent of prisons rather than nurturing educational spaces.

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Classroom environemtn_©mdr-ideal-teacher-classroom
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Empty and drab looking hallway of Lorain High School_©Wikipedia

People have been comparing schools and prisons for a while now. Granted, many of those with such opinions are teenagers in the prime of their rebel phase, some adults are preve to agree to it as well. These comparisons are drawn because of the structured school system that many countries enforce, with allotted hours of studying “locked” up in a classroom and allotted play time, which are so similar to the schedule of an incarcerated individual on a schedule. 

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Flexible class space at Hildreth Elementary_© Willian Horne

However, it’s crucial to recognize that safety and security can be achieved without sacrificing the warmth and openness necessary for effective learning environments. By prioritizing thoughtful design principles, schools can reimagine their spaces to promote safety while fostering a sense of community and belonging.

Architectural Interventions

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Interactive transitional spaces at Hilderth Elementary _© Willian Horne

In our approach to improving school safety, we should not compromise on the openness necessary for learning. Keeping students safe from all kinds of threats, be it a natural disaster, an emergency crisis or a threat from individuals with malicious intents. 

  • Open layouts and semi-open partitions can provide natural surveillance and increase social interactions. This maintains visual connectivity throughout the campus
  • Strategic window placement to maximize natural lighting and connectivity.
  • Greenspaces, indoor and outside, promote the mental well-being of the students and help eliminate the institutional feel of a traditional school building. 
  • Earthquake-resistant structures are most important in areas most affected. For youths who would likely be experiencing tremors for the first time, it can induce panic and trauma. To avoid further injuries, having a structure that can withstand such elemental catastrophes is essential. 
  • Easy navigation also helps reduce the risk of injury during emergency evacuations in case of a fire or natural disaster. Having large open spaces between buildings not only reduces the risk factor but also enhances the experience of the school space.

Integration of Technology

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Classroom with smart screens_©Wikipedia

Technology can play a pivotal role in making any space safe. Obviously, intrusive technological measures such as metal detectors and bag scanners can harbor a sense of distrust and can alter the atmosphere of the space. 

  • Smart access control systems provide seamless monitoring and response capabilities, ensuring a swift and effective response to any potential threats.
  • Emergency notification systems keep the school community informed in times of crisis, fostering a sense of security.
  • Surveillance cameras, when integrated discreetly, enhance security measures without overwhelming the environment.

It’s crucial to balance technological advancements with privacy considerations to maintain trust and transparency within the school community.

Collaborative Approach

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Multifunctional staircase_©arkitema erlev skole photo niels nygaard

Safety extends beyond physical measures, though the built environment can help encourage a collaborative environment. This encompasses emotional well-being and instills a sense of community. Mouldable spaces across the campus can be used to incorporate an inclusive and collaborative curriculum for the school and encourage independent learning.

Having the space adapt to the needs of the class rather than a class adapting to the constraints of a space opens up a world of possibilities. Combining rooms for interclass debates, or the tables moving to create various arrangements are just some examples on how collaboration can foster in such spaces. 


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Reading nook at Hilderth Elementary _© Willian Horne

Flexibility and personal freedom to choose encourage independent thinking cultivating such mindsets often caters to a healthier learning environment. 

Flexibility can be achieved not only by creating multi functional spaces, but also having furniture that can adapt to the students needs as well. A variety of seating options enables students to read quietly or work together in small groups.

By prioritizing relationships and community-building initiatives, schools empower students to become active participants in creating a positive school culture.

Personalized Touch

Schools with room to personalize a space by the students gives the kids a sense of belonging. 

While some counties have classrooms decorated with the achievements and learnings of the students, rather than just personal lockers assigned to each student. 

This harbors a sense of togetherness and belonging, where unity is greater than individual interests. Thus, this plain concept can be integrated to the school at large as a design project. 

While flexibility does have its advantages, some structure is important for an individual to connect with a space. Specially assigned study desks, sections of library or even a locker area assigned to the students for personal belongings goes a long way. Balance between the two matters. 

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Library at Hilderth Elementary William Home

Redefining school safety is not just about fortifying entrances or installing surveillance cameras; it’s about creating environments where young minds can thrive. By embracing openness, leveraging technology thoughtfully, fostering inclusivity, and engaging the school community, we can transform schools into nurturing havens for young minds. 

Designing for safety does not have to be a restriction, but a tool to achieve this goal. Let us continue to collaborate and innovate, ensuring that every child has the opportunity to flourish in a safe and supportive educational environment.



Masumi, a forward thinking architect is passionate about pushing boundaries beyond traditional design to integrate the realms of feasibility, usability and experiential aspect of a space keeping the designers environmental responsibility in mind. She believes design approach should reflect a deep understanding of how architecture impacts individuals and communities, aiming to blend functionality with aesthetics to inspire and elevate the human experience.