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Can architects design better police stations?

New ideas aim to help cops and the community engage in creative, constructive ways

The new Metropolitan Division facility for the Los Angeles Police Department opened last May.
James Steinkamp Photography

The design of a police station only addresses a portion of the important issues impacting police and community relationships. But as the physical embodiment of neighborhood safety, it can certainly set the tone. But a number of architects are re-examining how these buildings can impact community relations, advancing new concepts for police stations that create better spaces for law enforcement and locals.

“Nobody wants a bunker in the midst of where they work and play,” says architect Nick Seierup design principal of the L.A. office of Perkins + Will, and part of the team that designed a renovation of the Metropolitan Division facility for the Los Angeles Police Department, which opened last May. “We want to make them open and transparent and inviting.”

The 28,000 square-foot, two-story structure, a redesign of an existing building northeast of downtown, was designed to address community needs as well as streamline operations for numerous the police units who use the facility. Seierup and his team added a pocket park to the grounds, and surrounded the facility with an art wall, with work celebrating neighborhood diversity wrapping around the building.

Added green space makes the exterior of the station more inviting
The pocket park attached to the station
James Steinkamp Photography

These types of redesigns and new stations address a central issue of police station design, namely that many such structures in big cities still reflect the shift toward patrolling by car, not foot. More mobile patrols do help cops cover more ground, but they also require larger buildings with garages and parking, which can decrease the potential for meaningful connections between officers and the community.

The $13.3 million Metropolitan Division facility revamp addresses this with serious, as well as symbolic, change on the building exterior. The facade represents increased transparency, both literally and figuratively, with walls made of both translucent and transparent glass that let in light and give residents a look inside the station (all while giving officers and anyone arrested their privacy). The increased natural daylighting also plays a role in cutting down energy use, and helping the building attain LEED certification—another sign of social responsibility from the force. Along with the added green space, the building offers a much more welcoming face to the community.

The interior, especially the ways in which it is or isn’t designed to improve workflow, can also make a difference in engagement and effectiveness, says Seierup. With many of the smaller community stations Perkins + Will has designed for Los Angeles over the last decade, interiors were laid out to facilitate quick interactions inside. Designing around a prescribed path—grabbing orders, gear, and getting out the door fast—can help get officers outside and interacting.

The exterior, which includes transparent and translucent glass, helps make the station more open and accessible.
James Steinkamp Photography

The Metropolitan Division facility, which houses different types of units, including the K9 unit, SWAT team, and dignitary protection section that guards high-ranking officials, was arranged to facilitate cross-division communication, instead of the typical compartmentalized setup. “It would be a great space for Google,” says Seierup, due to the open, flexible interior that encourages conversation and collaboration.

“Officers can move to different parts of the office environment if they want to be closer to daylight or the lounge,” he says, “and different platoons can grow or shrink as policing needs change. With the flexibility built into the building, the station can evolve.”

An early model of the Bronx police station being designed by BIG.

Others architects have also recently taken on the challenge of reimagining the layout of police stations. Jeanne Gang and her studio came up with Polis, a research project and proposal for turning police stations into community centers that features computer labs and free Wi-Fi. These ideas are currently being put into use in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood. Bjarke Ingels’s BIG has also been working on a new police station for the Bronx in New York, a project that’s still in the works. Early plans include an expanded exercise facility for officers as well as a community meeting room that will be open to the public. Many of these design elements, and their intended effects, mirror recommendations from the 2015 Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which suggests more community engagement, and non-enforcement interactions with the public.

Architects can’t untie the knotty issues that have created distrust between communities. But as these plans show, many believe they can help create the spaces where these issues can be worked out.