Fortress America: The Aesthetics of Homeland Security

Tricia Quirk

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

In response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, public spaces in the United States were quickly fortified with concrete barriers and metal fencing. This need for homeland security architecture is still a relatively new phenomenon in the United States. Architecture itself communicates a message about the purpose of a space, the prestige of those who use or own the space, and the values associated with both users and owners. The aesthetics of this architecture solicit specific emotions, communicate histories, and inform worldviews. In the United States, homeland security architecture today is largely a physical representation of a perceived threat of a terrorist attack in public spaces.

A cohesive approach to homeland security architecture in the United States has yet to form. This thesis is a starting point for a broader awareness and discussion within the emerging discipline of security design about the importance of aesthetics in homeland security. Architecture itself, and the corollary concept of aesthetics, has sociological, psychological, and cultural effects, as well as security impacts. Yet, today, there is still little related research or discourse in the United States.[1]

Calls for an empirical methodology for measuring the psychological impacts of public-realm architecture date back to late 2007, but a common research method has not been adopted.[2] Disciplines such as urban planning, urban geography, environmental psychology, architecture, history, and sociology can help create a framework through which to evaluate the lasting effects of homeland security architecture.[3]

U.S. public architecture has embodied the American values of civic participation and public open spaces from its very beginnings. The government has a responsibility not just to protect its citizens, but also to protect the country’s values. In contrast to the public’s guaranteed freedom to assemble, homeland security architecture itself tends to create physical barriers in cities between people on the outside and people on the inside—physical barriers between the public and open spaces where they might gather.

This thesis explores homeland security architecture’s consequences on the American psyche. If architecture can communicate positive messages of aspiration and integrity, it can also communicate less positive messages, such as insecurity. Poorly designed homeland security architecture creates physical and psychological barriers that prevent the people’s access to their government and public spaces. Blatant security measures in public spaces can evoke defensiveness, suspicion, paranoia, and insecurity.[4]

This thesis proposes that the lack of consideration for aesthetics in homeland security architecture is largely a consequence of its origins, and posits relevant considerations for addressing this issue. Security professionals charged with keeping the public safe in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 used tools already familiar to them (such as barricades). It is possible that, if design professionals had been tasked with solving the same security problem, very different tools would have been used—tools that considered aesthetics when solving a problem.

As such, the thesis examines the role of public spaces in democratic societies, the influence of economics and politics on homeland security architecture, and how the psychology of fear influences people’s response to unpredictable threats. It also offers other topics of importance for consideration that either directly or indirectly contributes to the hypothesis. To do so, it addresses the history of the public forum, the importance of public space in the expression of our constitutional rights to assembly, and the psychological impacts of homeland security architecture. It then considers the economics and prestige driving homeland security design decisions. In later chapters, the thesis reviews design guides and policies created after 9/11 and the role of professional associates in shaping the aesthetics of homeland security architecture. Finally, the thesis presents the current state of homeland security architecture in the United States and offers recommendations for improving aesthetics in U.S. homeland security.

 

[1] For the purposes of this thesis, architecture is defined as the art or practice of designing and constructing buildings or structures.

[2] Jeremy Nemeth and Stephan Schmidt, “Toward a Methodology for Measuring the Security of Publicly Accessible Spaces,” Journal of the American Planning Association 73(2007): 283–297.

[3] “Urban geography is a branch of human geography concerned with various aspects of cities. An urban geographer’s main role is to emphasize location and space, and study the spatial processes that create patterns observed in urban areas.” Amanda Briney, “An Overview of Urban Geography,” ThoughtCo, last revised February 28, 2017, https://www.thoughtco.com/overview-of-urban-geography-1435803.

[4] Jon Coaffee, Paul O’Hare, and Marian Hawkesworth, “The Visibility of (In)security: The Aesthetics of Planning Urban Defences against Terrorism,” Security Dialogue 40 (2009): 489–511.

No Comments

Post a Comment