Designing to Prevent Crime

This is an article from the Architecture Australia archives and may use outdated formatting

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design – or CPTED – is gaining followers in Australia. Security specialist Simon Hensworth argues that successful projects result when security needs are considered at the beginning of the design process, not tacked

The concept of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) has been around since the 1960s or 1970s and has been adopted around the world to varying degrees and with varying success. However, CPTED has only recently gained support throughout Australia, where it is known by names such as Designing Out Crime, Secure Design or Safer Design. The most notable support has come from the country’s local governments, but CPTED could achieve further significant results if also supported by others involved in the built environment.

When a building or space is being designed, crime prevention is generally not a consideration, unless the project is a prison, bank or military facility. Security is also rarely considered before the architectural design has been completed. Then whatever security “holes” have been created by the design are usually dealt with using electronic and physical security measures that are “added on” to patch problems. In some cases, security holes aren’t recognized until the building has been constructed, in which case it is generally too late to correct them other than by adding on further security measures. In some cases these add-on security measures can be effective. However, design issues can often present ongoing problems regardless of the addition of security measures. And adding security measures to support a non-secure design can be an ongoing, frustrating and expensive exercise. A more coherent and successful result is generally achieved if security is considered from the beginning of the design process.

The design of a building or facility can contribute greatly to the security of people and assets in and around it. It can also contribute to the building’s occupants’ perception of their own safety, freeing them from fear and distraction from their work. Design strategies can mitigate many potential issues, including breaking and entering, armed hold-up, theft, internal theft, fraud, graffiti, vandalism, workplace violence and assault.

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design

CPTED is based on embedding safety and security into the built environment. It suggests that opportunities for crime can be reduced by maximizing opportunities for natural surveillance, territorial reinforcement and natural access control.

Natural surveillance is about maximizing opportunities for surveillance by authorized users of a space. This can have several beneficial effects. It contributes to authorized users’ perceived safety, and increases the risk perceived by intruders, because intruders feel more likely to be seen, challenged or caught. Maximizing natural surveillance can reduce the necessity for electronic surveillance (CCTV). It can also assist electronic surveillance by providing clear, open views.

Territorial definition is about facilitating ownership of space, ensuring that users of a space are given clear indicators of what is public space, semi-private space and private space, and providing indicators of what are acceptable behaviours in each space.

Natural access control is about limiting or deterring admittance to spaces. This can be achieved in numerous ways. For example, channelling users of a space into areas (or thoroughfares) with good natural surveillance, using elements of the built environment as barriers and limiting the number of entry/exit points.

Benefits of Built-in Security

If CPTED is considered early in the design stage, it is possible to identify potential issues up front. This can save a lot of money, time and effort by avoiding ongoing security measures to fix problems after a building or facility is established. As a simple example, a door does not require a reed switch alarm, access control reader, CCTV monitoring, procedural lockup by a guard, et cetera, if there is no door in the first place. Intruders cannot use a door as a point of entry if it does not exist. Non-essential doors or poorly located doors can create security problems that could be avoided simply by removing or relocating a door in the design stage of a building or facility. Significant savings can be made by removing the necessity for (or reducing the numbers of) CCTV cameras and digital storage space, electronic access control points and numbers of guards or patrols, not to mention ongoing costs associated with issues such as internal theft, robbery, vandalism, graffiti removal, compensation claims and litigation. Finally, if security is embedded in the design of a project, later additions that compromise the design quality can be avoided.


CPTED is making its way into Australia’s cities and communities, most notably through support from state government departments and local councils. Departments such as WA’s Office of Crime Prevention (OCP) are getting the concept of CPTED through to local government so that applications and designs of developments and facilities can be scrutinized by local councils, with crime prevention in mind. Government departments and local councils have been developing design guidelines to create awareness of CPTED issues. However, this strategy targets the latter end of the design chain. For example, if a consumer, architect or developer is not aware of CPTED and spends considerable resources creating a design of a home, building or community, they may be disappointed and frustrated if the design is knocked back due to a concept (CPTED) they may never have heard of and for reasons they are unaware of. Nobody wants to create a design that will facilitate crime, but if one is unaware of the concept it would not enter one’s mind.

The benefits of CPTED also need to become more widely recognized by those at the start of the design chain, which includes consumers, architects and developers. This way CPTED can benefit from the industry’s design creativity, and will not hamper the design process or be seen as “a problem we have to get around”. To this end, WA’s Office of Crime Prevention has begun and will continue to work with the various professional institutions such as the Royal Australian Institute of Architects and the Planning Institute of Australia to encourage and provide information on CPTED so that it is more widely known and used.

End Note

An early minor investment to ensure CPTED issues are considered during the design stage of a facility can improve the quality of life for a building’s occupants, minimize frustration, minimize loss and provide significant savings in the life cycle cost involved with the management of a facility.

Simon Hensworth is a senior security professional with global engineering consultancy GHD and an International CPTED Association-certified CPTED practitioner. He is involved in all aspects of security, security technologies, promoting security and security awareness.

Further Information

Simon Hensworth
Senior Security Professional
The GHD website includes information about Security Service Line and CPTED.
T 61 8 6222 8640

Western Australia Office of Crime Prevention
For information about Designing Out Crime, the same concept as CPTED.
T 08 9222 9733
F 08 9222 8705

Australian Institute of Criminology
An Australian Government national crime and criminal justice research agency. The website includes CPTED links under the headings Research and Projects and Practical Guides.

International CPTED Association
The mission of the ICA is “To create safer environments and improve the quality of life through the use of CPTED principles and strategies.” The ICA runs an international practitioner certification programme and the website includes comprehensive information.
T +1 403 668-7085

Design Centre for CPTED
A non-profit organization based in Vancouver, which provides a resource for CPTED design and concepts, and aims to increase awareness and education of CPTED.



Published online: 1 Mar 2008


Architecture Australia, March 2008

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