Turnstiles

“Those who would sacrifice liberty for safety, deserve neither” - Benjamin Franklin

Working at the School of Architecture at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal for the past few months, I’ve got a new outlook on everyday life.

I’m involved with the second and third year students in the Design Studios. These days a degree is awarded after third year. So I take the overall skills and education of the third years especially serious. It does not mean that with this degree one is
eligible to call oneself an architect, but after a few years work experience, and passing a professional practice examination, it is deemed that one is a professional.
With the design work, one really does see what twenty and twenty-one year-olds think is important. Security is top of the list! The students might leave out the vertical circulation, or the orientation of the buildings they are designing, but security will never be omitted; and in their book exclusion is IN. Of course for me exclusion is OUT.


I think of security as an add-on; they think of accessibility as an add-on. I’m not saying that security is not important, but certainly no less than accessibility!
What I want to discuss in this issue is turnstiles. I have an aversion to them. They were originally designed as a point where an entry fee was paid. Later it was found to be useful for counting how many people have entered a particular zone.
These days though it is probably security. Having been involved with the transport nodes for BRT and Gautrain, I realize that this is particularly so in these environments.
The technology is amazing. But on the whole, in the corporate and industrial and institutional environment, it is used in a very unfriendly way. Certainly, security is required, but disempowerment is unconstitutional. I know from my new credit card, where sometimes the pin number is needed and sometimes not, and sometimes the signature is needed and sometimes not, that it is really not safe at all, and unfriendly to boot!


At the School of Architecture the turnstiles to the studios (having already negotiated the turnstiles at the main entry gates to the campus) are those full height ones where, if you’re not a size 10, you have to crouch in a semi-foetal position to get through, whether you’re carrying drawings, models, or just yourself are really horrible. And of course they do not particularly ensure security, as there’s a special manned door for wheelchair users, or people carrying computers.
I know that, in the case of a real terrorist or hostage situation, they would be effective. So would an electronic door opening system. In any case this is not my area of competence, so I won’t suggest what should be done instead; I just know that the turnstile system does not achieve it’s apparent objective, and also makes me feel
isolated.


Turnstiles are in the same category as speed humps in a road in their crudeness. It’s the sort of thing a kindergarten child would think of to achieve their ends. As to how well turnstiles suit a broad range of people: it’s obvious that they don’t, and so they lose their purpose.


Importantly they are a safety hazard in themselves in that, in the event of a fire or a bomb scare or some such, the ‘special’ door which doubles as an escape door is not nearly adequate for the evacuation of the population from the area. Even if other escape doors were provided, additional doors make the security less effective.
It is a habit that modern society has evolved into. Do you remember when one had to empty one’s handbag when entering a public building? That allowed men, or women to keep things in their pockets? But in any case that was an intrusion into freedom that was tolerated for a few years, and probably was not effective either. These things are now built into the psyche of a whole generation, who currently need re-education.
In a funny way the principles of security: (arriving at a particular point and then being directed) do suit the fundamental principles of way-finding, which to me is one of the main issues of good architecture; so maybe this mindset is not completely wasted.

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