The events at the westgate shopping mall some months ago have highlighted the danger that terror spells to all types of commercial architecture in Kenya. The challenge that terrorism poses to development of commercial space is the fact that it creates a negative atmosphere, causing the end users to avoid using commercial public spaces in the interest of self preservation and fear. The tragedy lies in the fact that commercial spaces in themselves are designed for large groups of people and their activity. Spaces such as malls are in themselves designed to encourage people to come together in a social manner, and this is what terror threats aim at destabilizing, the very lifestyle of people.

Commercial architecture in Kenya is architecture that deals with creating space for commercial functions, and encourages large groups of individuals to come into its large expenses. A shopping mall is a public space, designed to entice people to come and leisurely enjoy their time within an environment that will encourage them to spend their money on the things that are within the mall.

Commercial architecture in Kenya is supposed to be a money magnet for its developers and tenants

The very essence of such a commercial environment is to create a space with a feel of freedom to relax and bring a good level of ease to the users of the space. They are designed to ensure easy flow of movement of customers from one highlight to another, with plenty of airiness and ease, ensuring good views of the commercial elements of interest all around the building. They are expected to handle large volumes of people at every turn as they serve as a social place for interaction and mirth for those who will be found within their precincts.

This openness of large commercial spaces such as shopping malls is their essence, in as much as it becomes their Achilles heel when it comes to matters of security. Principles of security design such as defensible space call for creation of spaces that are ‘owned’ by the users of that space, providing a sense of ownership and continuous monitoring by these users of that space. This serves as a deterrent for those who would be looking for an opportunity to engage in criminal activity as the opportunity to commit a crime would be deterred by the continuous presence of the users of that space.

While a shopping mall is designed to keep users flowing through its spaces with ease to ensure that they enjoy a good level of freedom and interest within itself, the challenges posed by terrorism calls for a rethink to the traditional mall spaces and revert to principles of defensible space to allow for better securing of a commercial space.

Commercial architecture in Kenya needs to have hierarchy of privacy within its spaces

commercial architecture in Kenya, interior design by kenyan architect, ACK GuesthouseFor a space to work right when it comes to commercial architecture in Kenya, the need to adhere to principles of spatial hierarchy still need to be observed. There is need to progress hierarchically from the most public external to the more intimate internal spaces. At each level, a developer may employ various systems of controls to filter off unwanted intruders and ensure that those entering the commercial space can experience several levels of checking to reduce the risk of an attack.

Such control may be exercised from the outside in a concentric manner until users reach the inner sanctums of the space. Starting from the periphery access controls at the gate of such a development, vehicles may be scanned using sophisticated machines, or sniffed down using sniffer dogs. From this controlled access, there is need for visitors to enter a monitored open space such as a piazza or parking lot. From here, a thoroughfare may be established leading to the building on various sides, albeit monitored continually through say closed circuit TV and having the presence of security personnel, preferably in plain clothes such that the commercial and relaxed ambience of the mall’s entrance is not lost.

These thoroughfares would lead to the threshold of the building, where physical scanning devices of customers accessing the commercial property may take place. As each visitor seeks to enter the mall, more personal security checks may happen here including briefly frisking a visitor or perhaps interviewing individuals to verify their intent. Baggage checks along entrances may also be carried out here. Architects in Kenya involved in designing such commercial facilities should incorporate all necessary spatial provisions and ensure services infrastructure has been incorporated within.

Creation of such an environment which encourages continuous monitoring of approaches to the building using passive methods would act as a deterrent to would be assailants. By creating such a monitored buffer zone from the perimeter to the main entrance to the building, this area becomes the first line of defense for the commercial facility. From this transitional zone, one may now enter a physical entrance area replete with scanning devices and access control methods. This is certainly one way to ensure commercial architecture in Kenya is more secure.

But perhaps one may wonder what you can do in the face of brute force that terrorism brings forth. Such an environment can only be secured by having similar brute force deterrents, but this force can be concealed in a secure zone in close proximity to areas of access. This should certainly be the central monitoring area where CCTV and monitoring equipment are located, and personnel here should have an armoury provided that allows them to respond to a threat with sufficient force to contain it.

Vehicles are certainly a threat in that can make life difficult for security apparatus. The best defense in their case is to have them parked beyond the transitional zone, and only allowed access to the threshold of the building on a need basis, e.g. for disabled access.

Many of these recommendations require a commercial centre to have sufficient land and space to employ them. Should there be insufficient property for this to be achieved, a developer will need to make concessions that will enhance security provisions, such as inward facing commercial spaces lit and aerated from the centre, with controlled access areas which are monitored by armed security personnel. Having too much glass on the periphery may be great for showcasing wares inside shops, but this is a security threat in the face of an attack, hence preference for limited openings on the facade.

By implementing these issues, architects will design of commercial architecture in Kenya that is more secure for their users.