Architects see increases in secure outdoor spaces
Property owners more aware of need, benefits
Erica BullockMay 11th, 2023
Recent pleasant weather in the Inland Northwest brings more opportunities to spend time outside. However, with more people out and about, some architects here say that building owners serving a variety of industries are increasingly concerned about the safety and security of their properties’ outdoor spaces.
Outdoor security is incorporated in the design of a variety of industries including schools, office buildings, health care facilities, public parks, and breweries, they say.
Popular security features at commercial and public properties include the traditional fencing, lighting, and landscaping elements, and a growing number of video-monitoring needs.
Kevin Cole, principal at Coeur d’Alene-based Architects West Inc., says lighting is the most popular way to enhance safety and security outside, followed by physical barriers including fencing and landscaping.
“I can’t think of any projects that have fencing but no lighting involved,” he says, adding that landscaping is a popular way to enhance building security discreetly.
Julia Culp, principal landscape architect at Spokane-based Bernardo Wills, agrees and says that different landscaping methods are used to address specific safety concerns.
She says screened barriers can be created with thick vegetation to discourage public view of a property. Plant materials placed lower to the ground enhance property sight lines to help with the surveillance of the facility and visitors.
Matthew Collins, owner and principal architect at Spokane-based Uptic Studios Inc., says Uptic uses landscaping for security including in the design of outdoor space at many breweries.
Uptic designed the 6,500-square-foot Uprise Brewing building, located at 617 N. Ash. Collins says that project called for strategically placed planters in addition to fencing to secure the perimeter of the site from theft and damage while creating a barrier between customers and pedestrians.
“The North Bank is a transitional neighborhood,” he says. “We wanted it to be open and welcoming for the neighborhood and also provide security … the heating, the furniture, and games are either weighted or locked.”
Collins says that Uprise Brewing’s outdoor area also was designed to activate the space, which he says helps increase safety and security.
“If you can activate (the outdoor space) and get people using it year-round, then it keeps out the unsavory elements. Sometimes bad things happen at 3 a.m., when no one is around,” says Collins.
Culp says the company most frequently incorporates security fencing into a site design, including at many maintenance-and-operations facilities, where building owners typically are concerned about access control and theft prevention.
She says Bernardo Wills is involved in the design of the $11.5 million Goodwill of the Inland Northwest facility on the West Plains, where controlled access and secured storage areas are needed. The concrete tilt-up building will house a traditional retail store, an outlet store, office space, and a storage and donation-processing area.
Bernardo Wills also recently worked on the design of the 40,000-square-foot Ice Age Floods Playground, located on Riverfront Park’s North Bank, which also has a maintenance and operations building that serves all of Riverfront Park. The park building’s design includes a secured gate for equipment storage and parking as well.
“Facilities that are primarily secured for maintenance and storage largely use fencing,” says Culp. “Sometimes there’s some landscape buffer associated with it … and then some sort of gate system as well.”
Designers say they are given a variety of reasons that safety and security outside is needed by their clients.
Some design teams say their commercial clients require a safe and secure outdoor environment as part of tenant retention and attraction. Other building owners request security features in their property design to separate the general public from the building’s occupants and visitors.
Such is the case at Spokane-based MMEC Architecture & Interiors LLC, where principal architect Walt Huffman says many of the company’s projects are for schools, and safety features depend on the age group as well as the location of some properties.
“We specialize in schools, and we’ve done several courtyard projects,” he says. In Spokane, MMEC designed Denny Yasuhara Middle School and Jefferson Elementary, and has three high school projects in the Tri-Cities that are recently completed, ongoing, or planned.
“Pasco School District was pretty adamant about not wanting the public to be able to get onto the grounds (outside of) the entrance,” Huffman says, adding that school leaders had to consider anything from armed intruders to irate parents to gang violence.
He says that elementary and middle school outdoor space is designed differently than at high schools, where older students typically gather and dine outside, and younger students tend to learn or release energy in the fresh air.
“Those have a little different use, but also the same security requirements,” says Huffman.
The architects agree that costs of incorporating outdoor security vary depending on the size of the property, the building’s layout and geographic configuration, and the use of the space.
At the $70.6 million Denny Yasuhara Middle School located at 2701 N. Perry, near Gonzaga University, for example, Huffman says that security fencing and gates may be all that’s needed to secure the school’s three building wings. He estimates that fencing materials can cost a minimum of $5,000, plus another $10,000 for the setup and installation.
High schools may cost much more due to open and accessible use of outdoor spaces that require monitoring, camera equipment, electrical work, and other hardware that can cost about $40,000.
A growing number of design projects include a blending of the indoor and outdoor environment to create an inviting atmosphere with discreet safety features.
Collins says, “People want to be outside more and connected to nature. The interesting thing is people want to bring their dogs to work or to a restaurant (more often.) I think we’re going to see more of it.”
Cole says Architects West is designing the Bella Terra housing subdivision on Spokane’s South Hill, which features discreet security elements.
“If you were to go visit, you may not necessarily see a lot that you would specifically identify as a safety and security element, like a fence or something,” says Cole.
For example, he says that a series of row houses was designed to surround a central community gathering space with living areas facing into the community space providing for visual control.
“It’s a space that incorporates safety and security to design a very discrete and more implied, than the actual physical barriers or access control.”
Huffman says that spending time outdoors allows a connection with nature along with healing and calming effects. An emerging trend at established commercial properties with little to no outdoor space is to design and build a rooftop space with controlled and secure access.
“A lot of offices do ask for stuff like rooftop gardens just so people can go out and clear their heads,” Huffman says. “I know health care facilities have healing gardens and rehabilitation spaces and they all need to be secured.”
He and other architects agree that outdoor safety and security designs shouldn’t be alarming.
“It’s important to not make it look like a prison or a scary environment,” Huffman says. “The students need to feel safe, sometimes safer at school than at home, so we try to provide an environment that’s safe and comfortable, so they’re not freaked out.”