I have a lot to say about walls, as you’ll discover in future blogs, but I’ll start with some basics regarding free-standing, exterior walls—the kind of thing you typically see around castles.
Walls do a number of things:
For a start, they mark property boundaries. In CPTED terms, this helps establish territoriality—cross this line and you’re on my turf. Any marginal wall can do this. My concept of walls, in this regards, includes everything from a laurel hedge to chicken-wire. It’s not so much whether a person can overcome it, it’s just making it very clear where the line is drawn. Even a small ditch can serve this purpose.
I point this out because there’s a difference between territoriality and access control. Enormous stone walls have served in both roles for centuries. China’s got a great one, for example. But with schools there are some nuances to consider, as follows:
Solid walls serve as visual obstacles. If I’m on one side of the wall, I’ve no clue what’s happening on the other side. That’s great for screening out distractions and staying focused on schoolwork; not so great for knowing what’s waiting for me when I leave at the end of the day. If there are bullies, gangs, pedophiles or other threats lurking, I can’t anticipate them and make alternate travel plans. I also can’t count on staff members watching out for me and coming to my aid. If I get jumped 100 feet outside the school gates, I’m toast.
Another issue with the great wall approach is that the school becomes so isolated that connection and interaction with the community becomes difficult. If you want to distance yourself from the community, no problem. But if that connection is desired, the wall gets in the way.
Which is not to say giant walls are all bad. There are places where they make perfect sense, protecting students from noise, gunfire, or in some parts of the world, kidnappers, terrorists and other threats. Schools in Afghanistan are torched regularly for teaching girls.
But in most locations, the solid wall is excessive. In those cases, I prefer to see formidable wrought iron fencing. It holds up well, offers insufficient surface area for graffiti, is low maintenance, discourages trespassers, maintains natural surveillance and allows for a continuing visual connection to the school’s surroundings.
However, if you must have a giant solid wall, make good use of it. Give it an additional purpose. Make it smooth enough to hang art on, or bounce balls off, or mount a basketball hoop. Paint a mural on the wall. Make the adjacent, internal courtyard a positive attribute of the school, not a barren no-man’s land. Here’s one example of what such a wall, and courtyard might look like, in this case for a school in Bombay, designed by Fielding Nair International. (www.fieldingnair.com )