The Architect’s Prize Building Can Be Security’s Nightmare

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Within days of turning a new major art museum over to the client for occupancy, the museum’s security manager put out a plea for assistance to Steve Keller, then a well-known security manager, and the late Robert Burke, the Director of Security for the Smithsonian. The building was so full of security problems, the security manager didn’t know what to do. The architect, one of today’s best known and most respected, had failed to consider many aspects of security or the opinions of the security manager. The museum’s director, fearful of sounding critical of the prominent architect, refused to cooperate with the security manager in making corrections, some of which involved modifying the building.

Keller and Burke flew to the new museum site and conducted a courtesy survey to verify that the problems were really as bad as they were represented to be. They were worse. The men made recommendations to correct the most serious issues or to not open the museum’s inaugural special exhibition.

Over the past 30 years the author has seen many new buildings open with worse security than the previous facility they replaced, entirely due to the lack of concern for security by the architect. One could not get permission of the insurers to open. Another was built on a seawall and subsequently was hit and flooded many times by hurricanes. The land had been rejected by many others as being unsuitable. Other buildings with high value assets have opened with non-UL listed security systems even though this is one of the most basic requirements for insurance.

This article was first presented as a Paper at the Smithsonian National Conference on Cultural Property Protection then published in “Security Management”. It’s purpose here is to warn architects to do no harm in the buildings they build. Any architect can design a nice looking building but only a great architect can design one that works in every way.

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