S1: I’ve been thinking about what we could change to make the United States a safer place changing gun laws so that we’re more safe. Changing how we think about radicalization.
S2: After El Paso after Dayton you might be feeling like nothing ever changes. But I read about cities in design for Slate and there’s one thing that is definitely changing the way we design buildings.
S3: I’m Henry Gerber filling in today. Hi Henry. Hi Janine. And that’s Janine Khattab. She’s one of architecture’s most vocal practitioners on this subject. You’re an architect right.
S4: Yeah. I’m an architect and I focus on educational spaces so schools K12 higher ed the whole slew of learning environments.
S5: I want to ask about how you got into this work which might be kind of a heavy question because I read that you were a student at Virginia Tech in 2007. Yeah I was already an architecture student. I was a third year at Virginia Tech and the shootings happened in 2007.
S6: It was a hard time. I knew for people who were killed during the shootings. One was a really good friend of mine we were co choreographers together for a dance troupe. The day before the shooting was our huge performance that we had been practicing for the entire year and the next morning we found out that my friend Reema Samaha. She was one of the people who could not be found. And we spent the entire day waiting and waiting and watching the news and calling around trying to see if anyone had found her. And finally around 8 p.m. We heard that she was one of the ones that was taken that’s awful.
S7: I’m so sorry.
S6: Yeah I mean it it’s really starting to become the norm. I kind of almost feel like I’m a part of a community in a sense this kind of really sad community. And I think for me focusing on school safety and design really is a coping kind of mechanism in some way.
S1: After college Khattab wanted to understand what school safety looked like in places where a quiet day in the classroom could not be taken for granted. So she went to Israel and Palestine.
S4: She saw schools that look more like bunkers you know very narrow windows really tall metal walls and barricades but Khattab talked to students.
S1: She found that studying in a fortress does its own kind of harm.
S4: The buildings started to become the second layer of trauma and so you know the percentage of students who were actually succeeding is very small.
S1: This the search for an alternative to this kind of fortified design is what really animates Khattab.
S4: She saw buildings designed to help people survive as if that were the best we could do you know if America continues along a trajectory of fear and retreat then we will end up in a situation where the buildings and the infrastructure that we’re investing in are not necessarily places we actually want to be in.
S8: I ask myself every day you know if Reema was still alive what would she want. What what are the things that were taken away from her what opportunities were stolen from her.
S9: And you know I I really want these places to be places where kids can still feel excited about learning can feel at peace can feel comfort on today’s show creating schools where students can feel peace and comfort has become the responsibility of architects and not say Congress.
S10: This is how designers are responding to a time of active shooter drills and bullet proof backpacks. I’m Henry Graybar filling in for Mary Harris. This is what next. Keep listening.
S11: Could you walk me through a typical school with a kind of suboptimal dated design. I mean when you walk into a school that was built several decades ago you’re being asked to renovate or something like that. What do you notice as the problems there. Well what do you put do you see in those spaces that the rest of us might not see. Can you walk me through it.
S4: Yeah. So you know I worked on a project in Adams Morgan the Marie Reed Community Learning Center it’s a good example. The building was built in the 1970s. It’s an old brutalist structure brutalist meaning built using concrete. So it’s a very heavy dark building. There were very minimal windows throughout the building. The classrooms had virtually no daylight. The building was also built at a time when in terms of pedagogy a school with no walls was understood to be the best for students where kids would be able to run around and engage with one another and learn through just kind of interaction with one another so acoustics were bad but also because there were no walls there was nowhere to hide to you know find security within a building. The building had dozens of doors to the outside correct people could get in from the outside as well as get out. So all of those are access points that are also weaknesses in your building. The former entry of the school was tucked away in this kind of dark nook of the building outside. So we relocated the entrance of the building to something that was more public facing it was brighter people could see who was coming in and coming out building walls inside of the school so that we could start to create you know areas for for hiding if we needed to hide away but then also we integrated a lot of glass around the building. So we demolished portions of the exterior facade and we put in larger windows. And that allowed for increased sight lines and visibility to see what if there was a threat that was coming our way.
S12: After we spoke I looked up photographs of the Murray Reed Community Learning Center before and after the renovations the old building was a hulking concrete mass the new one is lighter area and more open. You can see into the halls from outside the classrooms throw light into the streets. It makes the case that security and an open design might not be competing priorities still. I was struck by what Khattab it said about designing a place for the tiny tiny chance that kids might need to hide from a shooter. I wanted to know if that decision was hers or if it came from students parents and teachers.
S4: So I’d say it’s a little bit of both. Of course you know our our parents and communities every time they hear something new happens in the news everybody gets angry everybody gets upset. So every parent is going to want to ensure that their child is safe and every teacher or staff person that has to go and work every single day at a school they want to ensure that they’re going to be safe so that they could do the best that they can with their job. So definitely in those conversations people express their fears they ask us What are you going to be doing. And then at a top level our clients the counties and the districts that we’re working with they want to know what we’re doing. And there’s no legislation that’s changing the way architects design and the way that our our drawings get him approved before they go in for a permit. So we’re now being asked to ensure that we have a third party reviewing drawings in the state of Maryland and in Virginia to ensure that crime prevention through environmental design theory and practices have been designed into the floor plans and into Wilding.
S11: So this is now the law that you are expected to design crime prevention into your buildings. I guess maybe we should I should ask about that theory. Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. Does that have empirical evidence behind it. Do you believe that preventing crime is the responsibility of architects and designers or should be. I
S4: definitely think that it is part of our responsibility. We were taught this in school our firms invest in this. We partner with security consultants who are trained in this. I would say it’s difficult to kind of prove there is no there’s no data but it is something that we believe is best practices.
S11: I’ve been reading about some of the specific design changes that have been made in schools both yours and others that have been designed in the school shooting era doors classroom doors that lock from the inside shatter resistant glass as well as modifications to the windows in classroom doors. I think most people would think of security as usually impeding good design like in airports for example or other highly securitized spaces. How do you make this different. Is it different. Or do these buildings begin to feel like the fortresses that you saw when you were working in the Middle East.
S13: It’s a balancing approach right. So there is definitely an industry that is trying to monetize off of this. Right now the school security industry is now I think like a two point seven billion dollar industry in the United States. And those numbers keep rising. So technically they could probably keep continue to invest in all these widgets and gadgets and some of them actually are going against the code in some ways where you might be protecting a classroom against a potential threat shooter. But then if there was a disaster and you had a natural disaster and you had to escape you know you’re you’re you’re basically putting a blockade in your way. I would say the one of the biggest changes actually has to do more with once the school is in operation the training and the use of the building. And you know active shooter drills are becoming a thing that’s normalized now or backpacks that are clear or even you know bulletproof backpacks I’ve started to see that it’s really starting to impact you know how our students are being trained in using the building and same with teachers and staff.
S11: I remember hearing after parkland that some of the students who returned to the school after the shooting described the process of going through metal detectors of being forced to place all their belongings in transparent backpacks. And they said we’re the victims here. But it feels like we’re being punished.
S13: It’s true. And it’s it’s unfortunate that you know we have we take very seriously in this country our liberties. And that’s a very sacred thing in our not our freedoms. And so you were in this kind of state in this era where everybody wants to be very responsible. Everybody wants to play it safe.
S11: Yeah it’s one. One thing I want to ask about specifically it sounds like the perception of a securitized school. I want to bring up this school in Shelbyville Indiana which was reputed to be America’s safest school. It had a 400 thousand dollar active shooter defense system including cameras with a direct feed to the county sheriff’s office and smoke cannons in the hallways every teacher here you have your own pack. But yeah we all wear a FOB in case there’s a security breach. We can push this button and the entire alarm system goes off in the school squeeze.
S14: Secret weapon called hot zones exploding smoke cannons hidden in the ceiling. Cops can deploy them in an instant.
S11: How do you react to a design like that which sounds like kind of maybe secure but also the kind of design that would reinforce the idea for students that they’re in a dangerous place.
S13: Yeah I mean I would say that I understand where they’re coming from first and foremost that there is this kind of desire to ensure that nothing happens. Folks are also worried about liability. You know talking with different counties and districts they they’re afraid well what if something does happen. Number one that would be upsetting of course number two they’re like well what if somebody comes after us and sues us and says well we didn’t do the best that we could when we had that chance and we were building that new school so folks are investing in different features that may not actually be any value add. So thinking about the building and your site in a very holistic way not necessarily focusing on the bells and whistles that come after the fact would actually probably be a better investment and not nearly as costly as some of these other things that that you know folks are trying to sell.
S11: What kind of things are they trying to sell. What are the products that are being sold to fearful school administrators.
S13: Yeah I’m seeing a rope that is being hung next to a door that you swing around your doorknob to keep the doorknob closed and you know this is like really good good rope good fiber. I’m seeing barricades that can be propped up at the bottom of a door like a metal barricade that you can flip up and that will keep your door closed. You know you mentioned the kind of smoke bombs that go off. That’s something that’s being sold. Glass is being covered up in buildings so if you had you know let’s say in your in your classroom door you have you have some glass that’s there. Schools are going around and actually taking film like an opaque film and covering up the glass so that nobody can see in and nobody can see out.
S11: And surely that’s a reaction to maybe other shootings but parkland in particular where it Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. We know that the shooter looked through the classroom windows and fired through them. Mm hmm. Yeah yeah.
S15: The shooter in the stairwell I mean which are the white he’s carrying a rifle case at that point.
S1: There’s this grim video it’s a presentation the local police gave after the parkland school shooting. It shows how the attack was carried out.
S15: Green dots represent students a black dot represents the shooter the suspect goes to classroom 12 16 and fires from outside of the classroom into the classroom. He strikes four students inside this room one of which is instantly fatal.
S1: Watching this presentation I can understand why a school would want to cover up any glass in the classroom doors.
S13: I was in Texas a few months ago at a Security Symposium a daylong conference and we were listening to district after district presenting their solutions. And it was interesting the number of people presenting who are now the security coordinator for for a district who don’t have a background in security or architecture. One individual was the facility’s maintenance coordinator or director and was responsible for keeping the grounds clean and that person was then appointed the security coordinator for the entire district just because that person had some additional time on their hands. So they’re having to go out into the world and search on Google and you know find information on the Internet for how they can keep their district safe. So they’re making these entire district wide solutions and then using summer months to install film on the glass and they’re in their buildings in like 15 buildings.
S1: Janine Khattab understands why this happens but she says that making a school into a bunch of sealed compartments doesn’t necessarily make it safer.
S13: We design our classrooms now to have some level of glass so that you as a teacher can see but then also we design areas that are not fully transparent so that we can have hiding places in classrooms. You know we recommend that the lights get turned down if there is a threat the lights get turned off. The students are hiding in a corner of the room or maybe in a storage closet that’s large enough to hide an entire classroom. Or we design secondary doors in classrooms so that there can be an escape route out of that classroom rather than having students and teachers being locked inside the room. At least they’ll have a place a way that they can get out completely eliminating visibility might not always be the best route. Yeah
S11: it just it all makes me pause and think how absurd it is to have this issue addressed by architects that the point where we’re at is treating the idea of a kid with an assault rifle in a school as a normal issue that needs to be accounted for in design. Yeah it’s it’s unfortunate. It’s. Truly.
S16: Heartbreaking and saddening that we’re in this era. So the work that I’m doing now the buildings I’m building now and and that are getting built today when folks look back and they say oh that building was a reflection of that era of that time. I hope that the building doesn’t just reflect fear and hiding away and I hope that the building itself can start to be this expression of we still value education but we don’t want to compromise on our beliefs and who we are as a nation. It’s a struggle it’s a balancing act for sure. It definitely is.
S17: Janine Khattab. Thanks so much for talking to me today. Thank you for having me. Janine Khattab is an architect at horde Copeland mocked in Washington D.C.. That’s the show. I’m Henry Koba filling in for Mary Harris. She’ll be back tomorrow. What next is produced by Mary Wilson and Jason DeLeon. Thanks for listening.