In recent years, Terror attacks have seen a disturbingly high rise in societies all over the world. These attacks have seen a devastating loss of human lives and damage to the general urban fabric, often creating a feeling of fear and anxiety amongst people using public spaces. Architects and Urban Planners play an important role in the design of public buildings and urban spaces; hence safety must be as important a design factor as functionality and aesthetics. 

With the growing frequency of such attacks, there was a new increase in the requirements of safety/ protection elements to safeguard the comfort of the users. The horrific attacks that occurred on the morning of September 11th in the United States, marked a tipping point of this aspect for the global architectural scene.

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World Trade Centers in smoke after two passenger airlines were made to crash into them on 9 September 2001_© Getty Images/Robert Giroux

The 9/11 attacks saw terrorists hijacking four passenger airlines, three of which were made to crash into the two World Trade Centers and the Pentagon base, all landmarks of American strength and progress. The fourth plane was diverted from its final possible target, the White House or the U.S. Capitol. The attacks claimed the lives of 2996 civilians and transformed the way the world worked forever. Architecturally, it led to a complete remodeling of the design process of buildings and urban spaces, with an added stress on the importance of “citizen-based architecture” in society. 

Humanistic Quality

Citizen-oriented architecture revolves around the human aspect of the profession with a focus on human activities, tendencies and behaviors, and various components of Environmental Behavioral Studies. One must realize the need to create livable cities and functional structures. Eric Darton in his book on the World Trade Center says:

“The geometry of huge, monumental, monofunctional office towers makes it difficult to imagine that they are full of people, hence it becomes possible and even rational for someone who thinks only in abstractions to contemplate their destruction.”

This abstraction of buildings and neighborhoods has led to the complete dehumanization of these public spaces, highlighting the requirement of enhancing the human aspect of all designs. This could revolve around principles of urban design and resilient architecture to support the user’s activities while creating a comfortable, community setting. 

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Plant Bollards act as effective anti-vehicle terror design elements, enhancing functionality and aesthetics as well_© Payton Chung

Principles of Anti-terror Designs

The main principles a designer can follow to counter terrorism through architecture is to:

  1. Prevent the attack: This includes the idea of being “battle-ready”, implementing tactics that would dissuade the thought of a terror attack. This was seen as a central position in the design of ancient palaces where significant attention was given to fortification while maintaining aesthetics. Various elements can be designed to create a difficult situation for any possible terror attack. This could include pedestrian monitoring through landscape elements, use of electric gates, doors, and urban furniture to block and dissuade attacks.
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Anti-terror flower pots installed outside the Quirinale Palace in Rome help “combine the security of our citizens with the beauty of the city”_ ©
  1. Delay the terror attack: This includes the implementation of systems to delay the terror attack in any way possible. Delaying the perpetrators can give sufficient time for escape and authority arrival. The use of landscape elements like long winding paths, curvilinear pathways, hidden entrances, and various plants and furniture can lure and deceive the attacker.  
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Svigals + Partners designed the outside of the new Sandy Hook school includes a long walkway through a rain garden, intended to help the school “deter, detect and delay” potential intruders_©Robert Benson
  1. Limit and/or mitigate the effects of terror attacks: In the unfortunate event where the terror attack does happen, it is highly essential to reduce the effect of the attack. This includes promoting escape and maintaining the structural integrity of the building. Creating multiple defense lines by incorporating boundaries (based on use) can result in the building not being completely compromised while providing multiple and easily distinguishable exit points can allow people to escape and lead to an overall decrease in the number of casualties.
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Schematic showing lines of defense against a blast_©FEMA 427

Several attempts have already been by architects to implement protective measures while incorporating them into the natural designs of spaces. This includes adding elements like barriers, additionally reinforced structures, and various forms of surveillance to designs. It is important, though, to deter from a feeling of captivity and translate these elements into multi-use, more subtle features of landscape and design. 

Bollards, for example, are short metal post-effective barriers used against vehicular terror attacks, capable of stopping vehicles traveling up to 80 km/h. These bollards can now be designed as plant holders and benches, seamless addition to the neighborhood. 

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The bollards in the Financial District of New York City offer “a sparkling example of humanistic, multidimensional security planning”_ ©Rogers Partners Architects+Urban Designers

Hence, we must understand that architecture must prize the common user as the central deciding factor in architectural design and must work to provide for human life in the streets and the buildings. Today, Ground Zero stands with a completely new design, with the 9/11 memorial, the One World Trade Center, Liberty Park, a transportation terminal, and several other buildings. It stands as a center for remembrance and honor, exemplifying humanistic qualities to preserve the memories of those lost and to strive for a better tomorrow.

“It’s always our responsibility to ensure the safety of what we design and how it impacts the public, as much as it is to worry about the experience of space.”

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The proposed master plan of Ground Zero by Daniel Libeskind, yet to reach completion_©KPF


  1. Yalcinkaya, G., 2021. Florence to adopt Stefano Boeri’s “anti-terror”planter proposal. [online] Dezeen. Available at: <> [Accessed 26 September 2021].
  2. Crook, L., 2021. “Everything changed in architecture” after 9/11 attacks says Daniel Libeskind. [online] Dezeen. Available at: <> [Accessed 26 September 2021].
  3. UNSW Newsroom. 2021. The area is secure: countering terrorism through architecture. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 26 September 2021].
  4. Yalcinkaya, G., 2021. New Sandy Hook school designed to “prevent unwanted intrusions”. [online] Dezeen. Available at: <> [Accessed 26 September 2021].
  5. Quito, A., 2021. The secret of anti-terror architecture: Your city is probably safer than you realize. [online] Quartz. Available at: <> [Accessed 26 September 2021].
  6. Sweitzer, A., Clemoes, C., Coggins, T., Clemoes, C., Sweitzer, A. and McWhirter, J., 2021. Making Anti-Terror Infrastructure Pretty: The Most Depressing New Urban Design Challenge – Failed Architecture. [online] Failed Architecture. Available at: <> [Accessed 26 September 2021].
  7. Zilbershtein, G. (n.d.). Architecture in the era of terror: the security dilemma. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 Sep. 2021].
  8. Okeke, F.O., Chendo, I.G. and Sam amobi, C.G. (2019). Resilient architecture; a design approach to counter terrorism in building for safety of occupants. IOP Conference Series: Materials Science and Engineering, 640, p.012003.

Joshua Fernandes is an architecture student and an avid cinephile who always looks at the whimsical side of things. Hawaiian pizza, pop culture references, and writing are his true passions. He loves discovering new music and movies, being outdoors and believes that the beauty of the world lies in the smallest details hidden within.

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