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Designing for disaster

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The National Museum of the American Indian on the Mall in Washington is a successful example. Cantilevered, curving bands of rough-cut limestone project 50 feet from the body of the building, protecting the east entrance from a crash attack. The sidewalk, which is elevated above the street, acts as another unobtrusive barrier, while nonlinear paths, pools, watercourses, and planted mini-grasslands and wetlands are a veiled – and beautiful – form of defense.

"Nothing is more important to security than people," says Hopper. The more that public amenities lure people to the street, the more this activity creates inherent security, something urban theorist Jane Jacobs called "eyes on the street."

One of the architecture firms most savvy at designing urban streetscapes that are both comfortable and secure is Rogers Marvel Architects of New York City. Their designs for the New York Financial District have raised security to an art form.

The Stock Exchange and Wall Street (potential terrorist targets) are areas of dense foot traffic in lower Manhattan. After 9/11 (and temporarily again during the "Occupy Wall Street" protests), security barriers sealed off the street. The firm's task in 2004 was to restore public space while minimizing the risk of a potential incident. Their elegant, bronze-clad sculptural bollards (called "NoGos") are not only appealing but also muscular, able to stop a 15,000-pound truck traveling 50 miles per hour. For approved vehicular access, the firm designed perforated bollards that glow red or green to signal "stop" or "go" atop a turntable inlaid in the pavement. "Like your aunt's Lazy Susan," Robert Rogers says, the turntable and bollards rotate to grant passage when desired or impede it when necessary.

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