Architecture as a form of Safety

In order for architecture to be successful, it must work to address and solve the numerous problems relevant to its location.  Depending on the site, these problems can range from man-made issues regarding security, to natural issues regarding extreme weather and natural disasters.  One of the most important roles of architecture is to create an environment that is safe and inhabitable.  Throughout history, architecture has adapted and evolved in order to address this issue of creating safe environments, be it from enemy invasions in the medieval cities of Europe or flooding problems in present-day Holland.

One of the main issues architecture has had to face throughout history is the issue of providing security for people in areas prone to war.  In the medieval cities of Europe, this issue of security was addressed through the use of huge perimeter walls, surrounding entire cities, which became known as boroughs.  There are various examples of medieval cities successfully utilizing these walls such as the cities of: Dubrovnik, Rome and Carcassonne.  The walls surrounding Dubrovnik were the most successful, and have never been breached by any enemy forces.  The Dubrovnik walls were built in order to protect the city from attacks by land and by sea, and have continued to be adapted over the centuries to account for the new weaponry.  In order to protect from a land invasion, the walls of Dubrovnik are around 20ft thick at certain strategic locations to thwart breaches by soldiers and artillery on the ground, and rise up 85ft in strategic locations facing the sea in order to minimize damage to the city from canon fire.  wallsAnother successful example of a walled-city is found in the fortifications surrounding the city of Carcassonne in France.  The walls and fortifications securing the city of Carcassonne have been able to successfully thwart off numerous attempted sieges, most notably being the sieges during the hundred-year-war and the Black Prince raid of 1355.  (  The walls of Carcassonne are constructed as a double wall system, with numerous fortifications spread out among the 3km of wall.  The Aurelian Walls that surround Rome are another example of an effective defensive wall.  These walls were built using a combination of concrete, brick and mortar.   The walls were constructed in order to thwart attacks from local barbarian tribes, and at first were only built around 25ft high and 11ft thick, but later extended to over 50ft high in the 5th century.

As time progressed and weapons evolved, the use of perimeter walls as a defensive strategy became ineffective, paving the way for a new type of defensive infrastructure.  During WWII, the threat of attack in Normandy France forced the Germans to develop a new defensive strategy, which called for the use of numerous bunkers spread apart from each other at great distances, collectively forming an impenetrable barrier along the coast.


Because of the vast distance that had to be protected, the use of walls to forcibly keep the allied forces out would be impossible, so these bunkers were strategically placed to protect the coast from being breached.  These bunkers, or “pillboxes” were constructed out of reinforced concrete, with walls that reached up to 7 feet thick, in certain strategic places, mimicking the thickness found in the perimeter walls of numerous medieval European cities.

Successful architecture also has to create environments that are safe from the effects of natural disaster and extreme weather.  For centuries, the issue of flooding in Holland has been an issue that architecture has strived to solve.  One of the earliest forms of defense in Holland against rising waters was the invention of the dike.  Just as the medieval cities in Europe erected walls to protect them from attack, the Dutch created an intricate system of dikes to protect their cities from the threat of rising water.  A dike is a simple barrier that is built high enough to protect against the predicted storm surge.  The earliest construction methods called for the use of packed earth to form the support structure for the water barrier, which is then laid between the packed earth and the water, usually consisting of stones or other non-absorbent materials.  Lastly, a drainage ditch is constructed between the packed earth and the dry land to collect and transport any water that manages to get through the dike. All together, the invention of the dike has proved very successful and is still in place today in Holland’s current flood prevention plan.  Another successful form of flood prevention in Holland is the relatively recent invention of amphibious housing.  Amphibious housing works by acting as a normal house, resting on concrete footing when water levels are normal, however when flood conditions are reached, the house actually rises from the footing as the water rises.  In order to maintain all services such as plumbing and electricity to the house during flood conditions, all service connections are housed in flexible tubing that enables for expansion and contraction depending on water conditions.  In order to maintain stability during flooding, the house is guided by piles driven deep into the ground on all corners and in the center, which secures the house from all lateral loads such as wind and collision events.


Another important issue architecture faces is in creating inhabitable environments safe from the destruction caused by earthquakes.  Throughout history, earthquakes have proven one of the most destructive if not the most destructive forces faced by architecture.  In ancient Japan, earthquakes posed a huge problem, bringing destruction to thousands of buildings and injuring thousands.  The master builders that built the 5 story pagodas scattered around Japan over 1,300 years ago designed genius structures that are able to miraculously survive the destructive forces brought by earthquakes.  In order to mitigate the lateral forces in the earthquakes, each of the 5 roofing structures shifts independently left and right with the forces from the quakes.  At the points where they connect, special structures are used that enable this shifting to occur, that use friction to slow the movement of each structure down so as not to cause destruction.earthquake

Throughout history and even today, architecture adapts to better suit the needs of the people through creating better solutions to problems both man-made and natural.  Successful architecture addresses the problems of safety through creating spaces that better protect people from the harmful forces of nature and each other.





Wikipedia contributors, “Operation Overlord,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, December 10, 2013).


Wikipedia contributors, “Carcassonne,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed December 10, 2013).


Wikipedia contributors, “Aurelian Walls,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed December 10, 2013).


Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. “Dubrovnik,” accessed December 09, 2013,


UNESCO, “Historic Fortified City of Carcassonne.” Last modified 1997. Accessed December 9, 2013.


“WORKS OF DEFENCES, THE ATLANTIC WALL.” Last modified 07 2012. Accessed December 9, 2013.



Post a comment

You may use the following HTML:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>