A metal detector beeped, and Pastor Julián Moreno was turned away from his grandson’s school field day in February – until he put his orange pocket knife back in his truck.
At first, he found it aggravating.
“But then as I was walking back, I remembered what happened at Robb and it kind of sunk in,” said Moreno, who lost his great granddaughter, Lexi Rubio, in the shooting in Uvalde, Texas last May. “They were just trying to do a better job.”
Many schools in America, like the one Moreno’s grandson attends, have installed metal detectors and fortified their entrances in response to the threat of school shootings.
But others, like Fruitport High School in Michigan, have opted to completely redesign their buildings’ architecture – spending $48 million to incorporate curved hallways and little nooks for students to hide in, among other safety-driven upgrades.
“Architectural designs will be very important. And hopefully they will focus on really getting better security for schools and students and children,” Moreno said, hoping districts “really know and take into consideration the pain in people’s lives right now.”
Decades in the making: how schools have changed since the 1970s
Over the past five decades, schools have taken various approaches to improve safety, said Gregory Saville, who edited the International Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design Association, or CPTED’s, guidebook on school design.
“Schools simply were these boxes, the red stone buildings of, you know, ‘Ozzie and Harriet’ back in the forties and sixties,” Saville said. “They simply had teachers [and principals] watching… But that was it.”
Around the same time CPTED was created, that started to change, and schools began installing cameras and trimming hedges to improve sight lines. Saville said that was part of a larger architecture and urban planning movement, looking at ways to reduce crime in physical environments.
But now, instead of calling for fortified entrances and security features that can put students on edge, experts are calling for a more holistic approach – where architecture serves as a conduit for both physical security and for supporting students’ mental health to prevent violence in the first place.”They have these hallways and lockers, but there’s no place to hang out, no place to socialize,” said architect Rene Berndt, who is part of CPTED’s board of directors. “And so, we’re trying our best to create these moments, to use these areas to create some kind of social cohesion, to actually avoid the whole concept of some students being pushed so far out and so alienated, you know, that [they don’t] really have a place to belong.”
Just as the firm has tried to create small “kid-shaped” spaces for students to be alone, architects are also working to design more community spaces for students to interact with one another.
“We need spaces that tear down those walls, that build bridges, that solidify our connection and relationships to one another, so that we know one another so well that if someone is having an off day, they can recognize it before it ever escalates into something more serious,” said Judith Hoskens, who serves on the American Institute of Architects’ leadership group.Since the shooting at Columbine High School in 1999, a lot of schools, Slagle said, are also opting to create a single, secure entrance, or vestibule, where school staff can monitor who comes in and goes out. This principle, he said, comes from the Panopticon – a design feature originally used in prisons where one person can see out in all directions.