Security and Historic Properties: Preserving and Securing America's Past

Sept. 6, 2006

"The new security constraints on Federal building are opportunities for enriching architecture. Once you understand the limitations, they should be cause for invention and analysis that allows you to push beyond your preconceptions. The security issues should allow you to invent a vocabulary that not only solves the problem, but also creates an appropriate architectural image.”

-Charles Gwathmey, FAIA, Architect of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, New York City, from Vision + Voice - Design Excellence in Federal Architecture: Building a Legacy

From the Statue of Liberty and Independence Hall to the Lincoln Memorial and thousands of federal, state, and local historic properties across the United States, our national heritage and the story of American democracy are reflected in our historic resources. These varied historic properties, which range from century-old civic buildings, national monuments, and local landmarks to urban districts, entire communities, and acres of battlefields and archeological sites, are a living legacy of the rich and diverse assets that comprise the American landscape. The stories and oral histories associated with their creation, occupancies, use, and preservation ultimately describe and define who we are as a nation and what we value.

In her comprehensive compendium, The Landmarks of New York (The Monacelli Press, 2005), renowned preservationist Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel, Hon. AIA, explains why landmarks are important to the fabric of society: “Preservation of our landmarks provides a sense of community between past and present, and an appreciation of the accomplishments that outlast the individual life. We are reminded that the values and aspirations these landmarks embody possess continuing relevance today and make us aware of the past’s importance to the future.”

National Historic Preservation Act of 1966

Oct. 15, 2006, marks the 40th anniversary of the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). When Congress approved the Act in 1966, during the Johnson administration, the issues surrounding historic preservation were often concerned with protecting old buildings from bulldozers, slum clearance, and urban-renewal programs. At that time, Jane Jacobs’ influential book about city planning, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (Random House, 1961), was making the case for pedestrian-centered cities against large-scale clearance of existing neighborhoods, and for eyes on the street observation by residents as an early form of neighborhood watch to lower crime rates. This concept later evolved as an element of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, or CPTED.

The NHPA encourages the identification and preservation of cultural and historic resources in the United States through partnerships with state, tribal, and local governments.

It states, among many important principles, that national historic and cultural foundations should be preserved as a living part of our community life and development in order to give a sense of orientation to the American people. The Act goes on to say that federal government policy shall contribute to the preservation of non-federally owned historic resources and give maximum encouragement to organizations and individuals undertaking preservation by private means. It encourages the public and private preservation and utilization of all usable elements of the nation’s historic built environment.

Preservation Concerns After Sept. 11, 2001

In the post-9/11 era, however, the preservation community is facing several challenges that go to the heart of operating, maintaining, and celebrating historic resources. Potential threats of terrorism, natural disasters, manmade hazards, and limited budgets must be balanced against the desire for public access, a gracious and welcoming ambiance, and dealing with the aesthetics of protection. The prospect of closing historic resources to the public because they may be terrorist targets, or at risk in any way, is a decision that few property owners want to make, nor is it one that most Americans want to accept.

Immediately after the events of Sept. 11, for example, the Statue of Liberty was closed to the public and didn’t reopen until August 2004, when security upgrades were completed. Funding for these upgrades was accomplished through public-private partnerships, including American Express, which reportedly donated up to $2.5 million. During that time, New Yorkers and visitors were disappointed that the prolonged closure reflected another unfortunate consequence of 9/11.

National and locally significant historic resources, in addition to contributing to the tapestry of the American landscape, are often economic engines in their communities. They can provide jobs and spin-off benefits such as restaurants, lodging, educational and vocational programs, cultural facilities, and, most importantly, tax revenues to local municipalities.

Risk Analysis

There is no single, one-size-fits-all security solution that applies to every facility. Security planning is a multi-disciplinary, team effort. Historic property owners who are responsible for capital construction, annual operations, and insurance costs can collaborate with architects, engineers, landscape architects, preservationists, security personnel, and others to develop transparent security solutions along with visible security elements, as needed, depending on potential threats, vulnerabilities, and risk assessments.

“Protecting historic places may be in conflict with preserving them for public use,” observes Stanley Stark, FAIA, managing partner, HLW Intl. LLP, New York City. “Most historic buildings are particularly vulnerable because they’re older, of less-robust construction, and often in crowded, dense urban locations where they cannot be isolated and protected by veils of security layers. The dilemma facing owners, preservationists, and architects is how to harden these artifacts without destroying their fundamental historic character and authenticity. In these situations, sophisticated and measured risk analyses need to be conducted.”

“Perhaps careful management practices, such as screening and searches, very limited visitation rights and access, careful evacuation procedures, a policy of escorted visitation, the creation of a vehicular cordon sanitaire, or quarantine line, around the facility would take precedence over the hardening we associate with airports and major office buildings. But, if we stop visiting some of these places, they will become less open and accessible, like an endangered species. Since rural historic sites possess the benefits of remoteness and have ample perimeter areas, such as Civil War battlefields, they are probably easier to protect than the New York Stock Exchange. Anything can be cast as a symbol worthy of either protection or attack. We will have to choose wisely which ones to protect and why,” Stark notes.

Determining Threats and Vulnerability

Threats can include acts of terrorism (such as blasts and biohazards), natural disasters (from hurricanes and tornadoes to floods and wildfires), and crime. Each facility has a unique set of circumstances that should be addressed in a threat assessment and risk analysis, even for similar building types in different locations. Factors to be weighed typically include location, owner, occupancies, tenants, adjacent uses, regional assets that may be at risk, and various other site-specific factors. Age of the facility, replacement value, cultural importance, construction materials, and code compliance are additional criteria to be considered.

Not every risk assessment or security solution requires an architectural response. In some cases, technology and changes in occupancy, operations, tenants, or policies may address some security-related issues. Where budgets are tight, phased solutions or temporary compromises may be required until funding is available.

Inform and Educate

Since Sept. 11, issues pertaining to security design and disaster planning continue to evolve in the building industry, especially relating to codes and standards, liability, and what owners are required to do (and, hence, pay for) vs. what is considered good to best practice. Understandably, many historic property owners and agencies may not have ready access to those with expertise in risk analysis and threat assessment, or unlimited budgets, while others may not know where to seek information.

Creating a resource center of security information and guidance for historic property owners and preservation professionals would be a way to educate and inform those who need assistance. Federal agencies, professional organizations, building code groups, and academic institutions might find common ground for collaboration by creating a clearinghouse, similar to those found in the justice, health, and educational arenas.

Courthouse Risk and Threat Assessment

Courthouses routinely require risk and threat analysis because of their symbolic role in a democratic society, along with the need to protect judges and the unpredictable nature of those involved in the judicial process. Security planning and design for all State of California courthouses is based on site-specific threat assessments, says Susan K. Oldroyd, AIA, associate, RossDrulisCusenbery Architecture, Sonoma, CA. The priorities include:

-Ensure a safe and secure environment for all building occupants.
-Maintain continuous operations until building inhabitants can evacuate to a safer area.
-Provide security and confidentiality of critical information.
-Enable security and facility (court) personnel to maintain control during normal and disrupted operations.

“Whether for a courthouse or historic property, identifying risks and threats enables the project team to determine appropriate security design elements and countermeasures to mitigate potential risk and damage. The same principles apply to any facility,” explains Oldroyd. Other security risks that she typically considers include:

-Damage to physical facilities.
-Theft of property, including money, furniture, and electronics.
-Disruption of daily business activities.
-Compromise of the daily routines that are essential to the courthouse (or other building-type function).

Peer Review and Value Engineering Approaches

When owners and facility managers want a thorough review of security options and the aesthetic impact that security measures may impose on historic structures, they might consider a peer review, Stark suggests. Whether the peer review occurs within an agency or organization, between different agencies or private-sector groups, or as a public-private sector undertaking, the discussion and subsequent analysis may yield alternative aesthetic, operational, and cost-effective solutions, along the lines of a value-engineering analysis.

Building Industry Leadership

To be good stewards of our historic resources, we must remain committed to preserving America’s past as a way of inspiring future generations. Former Congressman and Ambassador Richard N. Swett, FAIA, president, Swett Associates, Bow, NH; senior counselor to APCO Worldwide, Washington, D.C.; and author of Leadership By Design (Greenway Communications LLC, 2005), observes: “In today’s world of terrorism and heightened security requirements, there is a need for experts who not only understand how to create defensible space, but who can address security solutions that maintain the character and accessibility of our nation’s most treasured historic resources.”

“Architects with this understanding and sensibility will contribute greatly to the built environment by assessing potential risks and recommending the needed design solutions, with the goals of enhancing public safety and the quality of our daily lives. This approach will allow the United States to maintain openness and accessibility in our public buildings that continue to reflect the similar, fundamental principles of our democracy,” Swett adds.

Preserving and protecting historic resources is an important civic responsibility. The building industry can - and must - play a vital leadership role by understanding the unique needs of historic resources within communities and creating appropriate security design responses in keeping with the spirit and intent of the National Historic Preservation Act.


Bershad, Deborah, and Jean Parker Phifer, FAIA, Chapter 16, “Perimeter Security: The Aesthetics of Protection;” Building Security: Handbook for Architectural Planning and Design, Barbara A. Nadel, FAIA, ed., McGraw-Hill, 2004. Illustrated case studies of how the Art Commission of the City of New York integrated perimeter security elements, including fences, walls, and gates, with public art at museums, schools, and civic cultural facilities.

California Trial Court Facility Standards, Judicial Council of California, Administrative Office of the Courts, Office of Court Construction and Management, San Francisco, 2006. Chapter 4: Courthouse Security, Section 4-4 addresses threat assessment procedures (

Jacobs, Jane, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Random House, 1961. One of the most influential urban-planning books of the 20th century.

Diamonstein-Spielvogel, Barbaralee, The Landmarks of New York, The Monacelli Press, 2005. With extensive documentation of over 1,100 New York landmarks, this volume serves as model for communities seeking to celebrate their architectural heritage.

Park, FAIA, Sharon C., and Caroline R. Alderson, Chapter 9, “Historic Preservation Guidance for Security Design;” Building Security: Handbook for Architectural Planning and Design, Barbara A. Nadel, FAIA, ed., McGraw-Hill, 2004. Comprehensive overview of preservation design and planning issues, with illustrated case studies from two notable historic preservationists at the National Park Service, U. S. Dept. of the Interior, and the U.S. General Services Administration, respectively.

Stark, FAIA, Stanley, Regis Gaughan, P.E., Joseph Calabrese, P.E., Chapter 18, “Research Facilities: Security Planning;” Building Security: Handbook for Architectural Planning and Design, Barbara A. Nadel, FAIA, ed., McGraw-Hill, 2004. Security elements for building systems at mission-critical facilities.

Swett, FAIA, Richard N., Leadership By Design, Greenway Communications LLC, 2005. Profiles in architectural leadership and civic engagement throughout U.S. history. A must-read for every architect and design professional involved in leadership and society.

Thompson, AIA, David V. and Bill McCarthy, AIA, Chapter 2, “Security Master Planning,” Building Security: Handbook for Architectural Planning and Design, Barbara A. Nadel, FAIA, ed., McGraw-Hill, 2004. Thorough how-to analysis of threat determination, risk and vulnerability assessments, developing a security survey, and protecting assets at any facility.


Advisory Council on Historic Preservation: Preserving America’s Heritage (

American Institute of Architects Historic Resources Committee (AIA HRC) ( Includes listings of related events, publications, and links.

APCO Worldwide (
Cordon sanitaire (
Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects LLC (
National Historic Preservation Act (
National Trust for Historic Preservation (
RossDrulisCusenbery (
Swett Associates (

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