Making Safety a Design Feature

The challenge

Bollards are used to mitigate risk from vehicle attacks, but they are a jarring addition to public space. What if they didn’t have to be? What if we could keep the public safe with art?

In this article

  • Why safety bollards have become a common design feature
  • The creative potential of safety bollard design
  • Engaging the creative community for a proof-of-concept safety bollard project

On a recent trip to Stockholm, Will Thickett found himself admiring the concrete lions positioned on the road outside of the Royal Palace. They were a lovely, minimalist design, echoing the Swedish coat of arms, and tourists seemed to enjoy taking photographs beside them. They added to the city’s charm but that was not their primary purpose. The decorative lions were designed to protect pedestrians from a vehicle attack.

As our Resilience, Security and Risk leader, Will spends much of his time considering how design and engineering can respond to threats. A counter-terrorism expert, he began his career as a blast engineer working with the British Government, looking at how structures, buildings and materials responded to explosions. Part of the work involved considering the risk presented by vehicles that might be used to transport explosive devices close to a target structure. Over the years the focus has shifted, as the vehicle itself has become the weapon.

Around the world there is increased sensitivity to the risk of vehicle attack due to a number of high-profile cases. As a result, Will—now working in our Melbourne office—has seen an upswing in the number of clients seeking ways to protect people in their public spaces. These solutions are almost always the same. In the locations we assess to be at the most risk, high performance impact tested concrete and steel bollards get the job. Unfortunately, they are an eyesore, and depending on their placement, not necessarily the best solution either. There is an opportunity here to do things better.

“I think people are increasingly aware of terror threats and there is some argument that people feel safer when there are visible protections, but they can also increase anxiety,” Will argues. 

“Impact tested bollards work, but they can be very aggressive looking. From an emotional perspective, people who are visiting a public space might think twice about being there if it looks like someone considers it a target. Whereas if you are protecting people, but that protection is invisible, you’re doing the job without raising unnecessary alarm.”

A bollard doesn't have to be a concrete block. It can be an aesthetic feature, like the concrete lions outside Stockholm's Royal Palace, or something functional, like the outdoor climbing-wall in Brunswick.

Keen to change current opinion, Will and his team started a research project to explore the creative potential of safety bollards. A bollard, fundamentally, is a pin in the ground with no prescriptive rules about how the above-ground structure should look. This is where the opportunity for improvement lies. Engineering-wise, the bollard doesn’t actually have to be a concrete block. The research therefore poses one simple question: what would a bollard look like if it were designed to enhance the space it protects?

“We draw on all of the skills of Arup to consider these problems,” Will says. “We work with the pedestrian modellers to ensure that these solutions will work, day in, day out, not just for that event that we hope never happens. We work with lighting planners to explore whether risk mitigation structures can have lighting incorporated. We work with traffic planners to make sure that vehicles can use the road space appropriately with these structures as part of the streetscape. Now, we’re taking things one step further, and looking for input from our clients about how a safety bollard can be turned into a visual asset.”

Will and his team approached several key city operators and public space managers to work on the project together, and Development Victoria are also keen to contribute. Together, we will start to explore some options. Bollards near arts centres and galleries, for examples, could be seasonal, supporting what is happening at the venue. They could be modified, changed or updated regularly. Alternatively, we could commission an artist to create a permanent public sculpture that also serves as is a fully functional safety barrier.

As people in cities reclaim roads and lane-ways to create urban parks, gardens and pedestrian friendly streets, large planters and street furniture can be an effective way to separate these areas from nearby traffic.

A secondary objective of the research is to see if we can draw together different and unlikely partners, such as artists, planners, engineers and government departments to create more thoughtful and appropriate design, and create a proof of concept that could be applied more broadly to our industry. With so much interest around the world, and so few examples of creative thinking in this space, we think Melbourne has the potential to be global leaders on turning public safety into an art.

In the meantime, if you’re in Melbourne, watch out for some creative bollards sprouting up around the public spaces in 2019.


  • Safety bollards are an increasingly necessary part of design for public spaces.
  • Bollards are not currently designed with aesthetics in mind – they do not need to be large concrete and steel blocks.
  • Melbourne is a great place to start exploring more creative bollard design, especially with input from the local creative industries.

This story was written by Simone Ubaldi, as part of the Research Review series. The series is produced by the Arup Australasia Research team; Alex Sinickas, Bree Trevena and Jeff McAllister with contributions from Sheda and Noel Smyth.

Lead Arup Researcher

Will Thickett
Will leads our Resilience, Security and Risk business in Victoria and South Australia.

Ask Will about:

  • Safety bollard design for public spaces.
  • Engaging artists and creative designers in security and infrastructure projects.
  • Risk, security and resilience for buildings, infrastructure and operations.


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