This year’s fatal mass shootings across American are heartbreaking.

From schools and government buildings to the workplace and housing, the topic of security continues to be more prevalent in our design conversations. Pinnacle staff has completed numerous government buildings specially designed with safety protocols, but we also look at every project through a safety lens whether it’s a multifamily apartment building or mental health facility.

Pinnacle’s President, Peter Baer, shares examples of using design to discourage crimes of opportunity while still creating a welcoming environment. The multi-disciplinary approach is called crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) and has four main principles: territorial reinforcement, natural surveillance, natural access control, and maintenance. You can apply these design principles to any type project.

Territorial Reinforcement – Creating a Sense of Ownership and Boundaries

This strategy focuses on creating a sense of ownership and developing clear boundaries between public and private areas. People naturally protect a territory that they feel is their own. Establishing clear boundaries between public and private zones discourage potential offenders and quickly identify those that don’t belong.

Examples of creating a sense of ownership include:

  • Creating spaces that encourage high use. For example, mailboxes in a lobby of a multifamily housing or multitenant office building can promote community and help with security.
  • Maintaining the building, property, and landscaping.
  • Adding trash enclosures that contain and conceal debris.

Examples of creating clear boundaries:

  • Using fences, landscaping, physical structures, etc. to divide public and private areas.
  • Implementing clear signage.
  • Planning for how people will flow through the space. For example, at a building that doubles as a mental health clinic and an organization’s headquarters, the layout clearly divides public access to the lobby and conference room and secure access to the clinic offices.

Natural Surveillance – Eyes on the Street

Criminals do not wish to be seen. This strategy minimizes “places to hide” and creates an “eyes on the street” feeling. For example, placing a playground or gather space at the center of a community where multiple units’ windows overlook the area creates a sense that “someone is watching.”

Lighting is a big part of this equation, especially at night. Here are some lighting basics:

  • Create consistent, evenly spaced lighting to avoid shadows. More fixtures with lower wattage.
  • Implement vandal resistant lighting covers.
  • Avoid lighting isolated areas and obscure places not traveled at night. Research shows that illumination of these areas actual promotes unwanted usage.
  • Evaluate proper lighting that illuminates your property without causing a glare.
  • Adding motion sensor lights at entry points.

Other natural surveillance strategies:

  • Choosing landscaping that grows low and keeps shrubs trimmed short.
  • Ensuring clear lines of sight – avoiding recesses and blind spots.
  • Positioning stairs and ramps in view of other properties versus tucked in the back.
  • Adding warning signs and surveillance cameras, if you do have an isolated route like a back stairwell.

Natural Access Control – Keep Out!

The goal of natural access is to keep unauthorized people out by using doors, fences, shrubs, and other physical elements. For example, locating an interior office at the front of a project provides natural access control whether it’s a warehouse or a senior living facility. Other ‘psychological’ barriers can also be used. For instance, paving textures, nature strips, or cement/rock barriers.

Additional examples include:

  • Creating a single, clearly identified entrance.
  • Designing a direct path to the reception area. Or using structures or landscaping to lead them to the entrance.
  • Specifying low thorny shrubs under ground-level windows to make it more difficult to access.
  • Installing adequate locks and security access systems at all entrance and exits.
  • Using locking gates to separate public and private access.
  • Utilizing decorative security barriers.

Maintenance and Management – Self Care

Part of safety in any project whether it’s a multifamily housing complex or office building is maintenance and management. The more dilapidated an area, the more likely it is to attract unwanted activities. During the design process, it’s important for architects and owners to think about how their choices will endure 10, 20, and 30 years out.

Examples include:

  • Ensuring proper building and site drainage to prevent water damage.
  • Specifying durable materials inside and outside.
  • Standardizing equipment, materials, etc. for easy maintenance across properties.
  • Ensuring lighting and equipment is easily accessible for maintenance.
  • Choosing low maintenance landscaping.

Many of the strategies incorporated in crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) do not add to a project’s overall budget. The key is thinking about safety and security early in the design process for a new building or a renovation. Have questions about CPTED? Contact Peter at or 541.388.9897.


Peter Baer, President, Pinnacle Architecture

Peter is the principal architect and founder of Pinnacle Architecture. Founded in 1990 he has built the firm on the foundation of a strong commitment to constant improvement and client satisfaction. His portfolio of work is vast and varied, and the theme of enhancing lives and communities has been a constant. Peter believes success begins with a commitment to others and he places a high importance on company culture and helping team members reach their full potential. His body of work includes health care, public use, higher education, senior living, commercial, multi-family housing, and more.


International CPTED Association
Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design Guidebook, National Crime Prevention Council
Oxford Research Encyclopedias, Criminology and Criminal Justice, Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) authored by Paul Cozens and Terence Love