Jane Embury looks at a threat that may have become more serious
If anybody should know about the threat from terrorism, it’s the head of MI5.
He’s warned that Britain could face a ‘spectacular’ attack like 9/11 after the West’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Ken McCallum said the security service was concerned that terrorists would be able to regroup and plan sophisticated operations targeting the UK.
He also said that MI5 and the police have thwarted 31 ‘late-stage’ plots to attack Britain in the past four years, including six during the pandemic.
The MI5 director general said the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan had ‘heartened and emboldened’ extremists.
The architecture of fear is about recognising that some threats can and do happen.
It’s why, some twenty years ago, we developed an advanced glazing system to counter the blast from a lorry bomb.
It isn’t a threat that’s uppermost in many architects’ minds, but it should be. As we wrote recently, Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency, says that mental health is an important issue in relation to terrorism and violent extremism.
The trouble with the architecture of fear is that we quickly forget what we should be fearful of. The Manchester Arena attack should serve as a reminder.
As Europol makes clear, it’s a threat that we should be taking seriously, and incorporating protective measures into high value and public buildings.
Designing in safety is all about determining the likely – or unlikely – threats that a building might face. The resulting threat assessment will then guide the design team.
The solution might not simply be about the building itself, but landscaping around it so that any explosive attack will be at a safer standoff distance.
But it’s also about glass, because modern architecture is all about glass. It’s also worth remembering that the majority of urban injuries when a building is attacked are caused by flying glass.
We rigorously tested glass types and framing systems and found innovative ways to reduce profile widths, while maintaining the integrity of the glazed unit.
Our research journey was to design an effective blast-resistant system that didn’t look like a blast-resistant system.
Since then, we’ve supplied to projects around the world – and not just for bomb or ballistic protection. For example, we supplied to a banking hub in Hong Kong, in a typhoon zone. It protects against high wind-loading pressures.
Sometimes, the architecture of fear is the best option to make buildings resistant to attack.
After all, the boss of MI5 should know best.