Opinion: Landscape Architects should Lead Secure Placemaking by Dennis Rubba

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Art installation to deter vehicular access to exposed portion of the Denver Justice Center courtyard

Long before recent terrorist events in public spaces became a recurring event, landscape architects have been charged with designing protected public spaces.  While U.S. Federal law mandates the protection and hardening of Federal Buildings, those protective requirements have not yet been extended to the public realm.  Our challenge as landscape architecture professionals is to combine placemaking with public safety through the deployment of beautifully designed site elements.  The landscape architecture profession should play a leadership role in the design of civic and public spaces that feel open, free, and community-oriented; not barricaded, dividing, or added as an after-thought.  The public should be unaware of the protective aspects of the space, noticing rather a beautifully designed, inviting space.

I was alarmed when reviewing a recent article on www.cleveland.com where Jersey barriers had been installed in Public Square after the city and homeland security raised concerns about potential attacks.  This $50 million renovation of the square was completed in 2016, and yet in a space of this size and prominence, failed to integrate protective measures for the public as part of the original design.  In my opinion, our profession should always consider public safety as part of the design process.

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Photo of Public Square depict concrete Jersey barriers placed along Superior Avenue as a temporary solution to homeland security concerns about public safety.

Steven Litt.  The Plain Dealer.

studioINSITE’s work on Denver Justice Center’s Dale Tooley Plaza is a good example of the application of 'protected placemaking'.  The public realm surrounding the court and detention center buildings is a beautiful place, while at the same time serves as a very defensible space. Every site feature serves as a defensible measure - site plinth wall, steps, bollards, ram proof entry walls, art placement, curbs, site furnishings with ram resistant footings, etc.  To the average person the plaza is a beautiful and welcoming gathering space, but to law enforcement is a successful example of hardening the facilities and protecting the public. 


Deployed safety elements at Courthouse entry


Raised protected pedestrian spaces at the Detention Center.

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Ram and blast resistant site walls as part of the planting beds.

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Ram and blast resistant site walls.


Elevated building plinths.