November 19, 2019

Designing Schools in an Age of Mass Shootings

“Early in September, in Fruitport, Michigan, a new building at a local high school made headlines across the country. It had been designed for a single purpose: to try to mitigate the carnage of school shootings. There are no straight hallways lined with lockers at Fruitport High School. Its walls are curved, to reduce a gunman’s range and line of sight. Barriers jut out between lockers and classrooms, providing cover for students cowering from gunfire, and the doors to classrooms lock on demand, allowing children to hide from a gunman peering through their windows.

While many of these solutions are clever, and presented in good faith, high schools like Fruitport speak to a sobering new reality. Buildings are designed to last—they establish a sense of permanence and become the backdrop for our daily lives for decades, if not centuries, to come. That we are now designing them around school shootings is an architectural statement that we, as a country, have accepted carnage as a new normal—not a problem to be solved, merely mitigated.

Fruitport isn’t the only school to take up this approach. Sandy Hook Elementary, which reopened in 2016, pioneered many of these design concepts. It features curved hallways, impact-resistant glass, and special door locks that enable teachers to secure their classrooms quickly from the inside. More recent examples can be found in Shelbyville, Indiana, and Charleston, South Carolina. A school in Los Angeles County recently built a 20-foot wall of yellow metal around its entire perimeter to protect students from stray bullets. It’s not hard to understand why school administrators are looking for such solutions to the problem: Congress has passed no new gun control legislation since the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre (and, in fact, in the five years after the shooting, states passed more laws expanding access to guns than they did restricting access). Until legislators act, school shootings will only continue. Already, according to Slate, the school security industry rakes in $2.7 billion a year, and “those numbers keep rising.””

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