Research increasingly points to the positive impact well-designed environments can have on people’s productivity and happiness. In response, architects and manufacturers have become increasingly innovative in designing aesthetically appealing and contributing to public well being rather than purely functional.
Take education, for instance. Physical school security has been at the top of the agenda ever since the 1996 Dunblane school massacre and Horrett Campbell’s machete attack on a teddy bears’ picnic at St Luke’s Infants School in Wolverhampton for three months later.
The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act of 2006 made it a legal requirement to protect children and other vulnerable adults from harm or risk of harm by preventing those deemed unsuitable from gaining access to them through their work.
A briefing note from Gloucestershire Constabulary says: ‘To teach and learn, staff and pupils must feel safe and secure. Criminal and anti-social behaviour can disrupt the work of the school, physical and mental damage to people and damage to buildings. Worse, fear is created amongst pupils, staff and parents, which is out of all proportion to the actual crimes committed.’
It says efficient physical security can be designed at the beginning. And its first recommendation is to provide a substantial secure boundary and limit access points for vehicles and pedestrians, becoming a key part of Ofsted inspections.
The skill of making sites secure without seeming fortified, thus contributing to the fear and intimidation within while sticking to ever-tighter public sector budgets, requires a fine balance.
One manufacturer of perimeter fencing systems believes it has the solution, making all of its installations relevant to the individual school they encapsulate.
Zaun – founded in the same year as Dunblane and St Luke’s – considers aesthetics, security, the environment, school footprint and budget before devising its bespoke solutions.
Co-founder and director Alastair Henman says: ‘Every school is unique so we have to listen to the specific requirements of each establishment and work out the best way to deliver what can often be conflicting priorities.
‘We offer a complete service from initial site survey through design to manufacture and, when specifically asked to, even installation. The fact that we manufacture in our own purpose-built factories means we can offer the widest range of products and then tailor them to the individual requirements of your site.’
Zaun has been working with schools across the country to design systems to suit their specific circumstances. For example, the Evelyn Grace Academy in Brixton was designed in the shape of the letter Z and fitted exclusively with Zaun fencing.
The installation won the Stirling Prize, whose judges praised how the sightly fencing and ‘imaginative’ design was ‘expertly inserted into an extremely tight site’ with the architects accommodating four schools under a single academy umbrella.
They put a 100-metre running track through the middle of the site, under a bridge between two school blocks, divided by Zaun’s Duo fencing.
Another prestigious development across the city, the Chobham Academy that has just opened on the former London 2012 Athletes’ Village in Queen Elizabeth Park, had different requirements.
The ‘Olympic legacy’ academy was anxious about the impact of excess noise from the Tube line that runs alongside the school boundary. So it chose Zaun’s DBS acoustic fencing, an innovative new fencing system made from recycled mixed plastic waste that deflects noise and is rated B3 with a 36-decibel loss under BS EN 1793-2.
The individual site requirements apply equally to fencing public spaces. For example, Ashford in Kent wanted a zany one-off fence at its new John Wallis Square to commemorate the pioneering work of the Ashford-born mathematician who introduced the symbol for infinity.
But wacky and ‘high-tech’ aren’t the only ways to make perimeters fit-for-purpose. Colour, through visibility, incorporation of logos or lettering and aesthetic touches can all combine to make an environment more fitting.
Zaun has even laser-cut steel figures into fencing at one school and incorporated a bar code into concept fencing for another to provide an ’embedded learning experience’ for students.
Henman advises: ‘However outlandish you think your ideas are, talk to a perimeter systems specialist right at the start of the design process and you may be surprised what dreams of yours they can realise.
‘We can help to produce systems which meet your exact requirements, and provide the reassurance that all products and installations have been tested rigorously and approved or accredited by exacting independent verification schemes such as security ratings to LPS 1175 from the Loss Prevention Certification Board at the Buildings Research Establishment.’
So he advises local and education authorities to get more demanding to consign to history the miles of dreary green or silver palisade fencing turning schools into unappealing institutions and public spaces into prison yards.