At the beginning of the twenty-first century, one of the most important and underexplored forms of crime control is architecture. Building on work in architectural theory, this Article demonstrates how additional attention to cities, neighborhoods, and individual buildings can reduce criminal activity. In so doing, it considers as "architecture" the full range of activities, from building design to city planning, with which architects are concerned.
Understanding the relationship between crime and architecture is especially important as it becomes increasingly clear that conventional law enforcement methods are, at best, partially effective in the fight against crime. Over the past century, advances in architecture have far outpaced those in law; from cranes to bulldozers, plastics to steel, we have developed sophisticated tools and machines to shape the topography of the land. Rather than following longstanding precedent, architecture has often stressed innovation and has been subject to market forces that promote better and cheaper designs.
This Article seeks to provide an account of effective crime control that focuses more on architecture and less on conventional methods of law enforcement. "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." (1) Architectural solutions can prove more practical than the utopian ideas often considered when crime control gets interdisciplinary, e.g., better parenting and families and stronger law enforcement (from the political right), or more jobs and education (from the political left). These projects, though worthwhile, are often difficult to accomplish. Architectural improvements that control crime, in contrast, can be adopted and implemented locally with real effect. The idea is not to spend more money--a major impediment to the solutions described above--but to spend it differently.
Many civilizations have used design to reinforce particular belief systems. (2) Indeed, a standard notion in the emerging field of cyberlaw, associated most directly with Lawrence Lessig, is that the "architecture" of the Internet can prevent crime. A focus on architecture might seem to make unique sense for the Internet: As Lessig observes, the Internet, an artificial environment, is all architecture (or code) and thus infinitely malleable, at least in theory. (3) Yet the real world may be more amenable to architectural constraints than the Internet. Architectural changes are far more enduring than code, which can be hacked instantaneously with potentially permanent effects. Once the code is cracked, information can be disseminated across the globe and becomes infinitely copyable. Thus, while the real world does not consist only of architecture, it can be subject to more lasting architectural solutions than cyberspace. It is time to reverse-engineer cyberlaw's insights, and to assess methodically whether changes to the architecture of our streets and buildings can reduce criminal activity.
Outside of cyberlaw, contemporary legal scholars and government have not given sufficient attention to architecture, instead thinking primarily about the effect of legal sanctions on crime, and only incidentally about how other social institutions affect crime. In recent years, the discussion has evolved to consider the impact of perpetration cost (the monetary price of engaging in a particular crime) and the role of social norms. (4) An examination of architecture can supplement this progress, suggesting, for example, that the high crime rates of inner cities are related to the physical environment and not simply to the conventional explanations (poverty, unemployment, poor schools, and the like).
Yet the instinctive reaction of many lawyers is to focus on legal rules, without thinking about the constraint of physical space. Ironically, even an architectural problem in crime control--" broken windows" --has encouraged legal, not architectural, solutions. James Wilson and George Kelling's classic article argued that physical signs of disorder--typified by the broken window--prompt further crimes. (5) Accordingly, governments across the country have stepped up law enforcement and prosecution of minor offenses like vandalism in an attempt to deter these "gateway" crimes, crimes that are harbingers of more serious ones. A focus on architecture opens up other possibilities, from shatterproof windows to subtle barriers that make windows less accessible. Indeed, the very program on which Wilson and Kelling based their article, the New Jersey Safe Neighborhoods Act, used design-based strategies, but they went unmentioned in the article, which had a strictly legal focus.
This Article begins by exploring architectural solutions to crime and then suggests ways for the government to take a more active role in architectural design. Part I considers four architectural concepts: increasing an area's natural surveillance (its visibility and susceptibility to monitoring by private citizens), introducing territoriality (by demarcating private and semiprivate spaces), reducing social isolation, and protecting potential targets. The remaining Section of Part I explores how the practical application of these concepts prevents crime. While architectural insights into crime prevention are applicable to almost all structures, readers will benefit by thinking of a paradigmatic application of the four concepts--a housing project in an inner city. The project is characterized by high rates of crime, distrust of police, and few opportunities for seclusion. Architectural solutions hold out much promise in this setting; unlike law enforcement, they offer many benefits and few undesirable effects. (6)
Drawing on extensive theoretical work about deterrence, I explain how design principles can increase the cost of perpetrating crime, facilitate law enforcement, promote development of social norms of law-abiding and law-reinforcing behavior, and shape tastes against crime. Research in architectural theory and environmental psychology reveals that architects influence, in subtle ways, the paths by which we live and think. Fast-food restaurants use hard chairs that quickly grow uncomfortable so that customers rapidly turn over; elevator designers place the numerals and floor indicator lights over people's heads so that they avoid eye contact and feel less crowded; supermarkets have narrow aisles so that customers cannot easily talk to each other and must focus on the products instead. (7) With strategies like these, private architects are currently engaging in social control. Law occasionally harnesses the power of physical space to shape social norms and uses architecture as an expressive tool to embody certain commitments. The platform ramps required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, for example, not only allow access for the disabled, but also express societal beliefs about discrimination. (8)
Part II illustrates specific legal mechanisms that facilitate design-based solutions to crime. Distinguishing among situations where the government acts as a builder, those where it acts as a civil regulator, and those where it acts as a criminal enforcer, the Article finds solutions in a variety of legal fields. When the government builds housing, designs streets, and maintains parks, attention to architecture can prevent crime. Many housing projects have acted as invitations to crime; government procurement regulations can favor structures that act as invitations to community. Attention by government can also lead to greater awareness of design-based solutions in the private sector.
Private precautions can also be stimulated directly through government regulation. For example, if private actors are ignoring crime prevention through architecture, a jurisdiction might require crime impact statements before significant housing and commercial developments are built. Zoning decisions and building codes could also be modified to incorporate principles of architectural design and crime prevention. Tort suits can similarly encourage landlords and developers to adopt more effective design, and these lawsuits can harness the educative power of insurance companies. In the field of contracts, the law governing lease agreements could be modified to require landlords to disclose poor architectural features and local crime rates to prospective tenants. In the field of criminal law, laws against breaking and entering can be used to protect architecture directly. Governments can also use nuisance and forfeiture to take over abandoned buildings and other places where crime festers.
Part III considers some of the problems that arise when governments employ architecture to prevent crime. Architectural strategies can call for the creation of extended panopticons, raising the major problem that Michel Foucault identified with Jeremy Bentham's ideal--an expansion of social control into all aspects of life. These strategies may also threaten privacy by opening up spaces to greater public view. Another looming problem concerns the possible displacement of crime to areas without good design. These objections are weighty, and there are unique risks to using architecture as a crime-control method. Understanding the power of architecture can inform society's resolution of how much and what type of privacy and social control we want, particularly when those wants weigh against the effective prevention of crime. Society will inevitably make architectural choices; much is gained by folding these choices into a deliberate and transparent legal strategy.
At the outset, I talk a lot about architecture and only a little about law. This may be odd for a law review article, but the design is intentional. Focusing on architecture first permits a fuller understanding of how architectural variables influence human behavior. That understanding, in turn, informs decisions about how law can best use architecture. The Article shows how many of our current laws and...