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Relations between the Los Angeles Police Department and residents have long been tainted by tension and hostility. But the department has been making efforts to improve its image, an undertaking expressed in a host of building projects. Boosted by a $600m (€420m) bond measure that was approved by taxpayers in 2002, facilities across LA have been newly constructed or renovated to be more civic-minded in design.

“The old police buildings had a bunker mentality and you’d be afraid to come onto the property,” says Gary Lee Moore, the city engineer overseeing the building programme. “We looked at this as a great opportunity to rethink how you design a police building.” Anchoring the new facilities is the Police Administration Building, the department’s sleek new headquarters in the heart of downtown LA that opened in September. Designed by Los Angeles firm AECOM, along with Denver’s Roth Sheppard Architects, the 10-storey building occupies a full city block and is partially sheathed in glass, an allusion to the department’s promise ­of transparency.

Responding to input from the community, the site was designed with a freestanding 450-seat civic auditorium and a street-level restaurant. An acre of land adjacent to the building was apportioned as community green space and landscaped by Meléndrez, an LA landscape architecture firm. It has a spacious lawn, elegant benches and plantings of Mexican palo verde trees, California palms, London plane trees and Australian willows. “The whole intent is to bring people onto the grounds,” says Moore. “We wanted to add value to the neighbourhood, and architecture is a key component of that.”

Other buildings constructed or renovated under the programme include two bomb squad facilities by WWCOT Design, a detention centre by the firms HOK and Tetra, a traffic division by RNL Design, and several neighbourhood police stations. Two additional police stations and the Los Angeles Police Academy are still slated for renovations. Many have been applauded for their progressive designs, such as the Hollenbeck Police Station by the LA firm AC Martin Partners, which has drawn accolades from the surrounding community as well as the architecture world since it opened in July in the Boyle Heights district of East Los Angeles.

“Existing police stations tended to be very fortress-like, with mostly solid materials and few windows or natural light,” says Christopher King, a senior designer of the Hollenbeck station. “We wanted to pursue a lot of openness and glass with this facility. But the question was how to make a police station safe and secure that’s made out of glass.” King learned the answer to that question when he and architects from other firms took various materials under consideration to a shooting range in Angeles National Forest. There, a police sniper shot at their materials to gauge if they met security standards. The resulting Hollenbeck station has a soaring, angular glass entryway cloaked with a second skin of glass panels that fold around corners – all of it bullet-resistant. The architects also included brightly coloured panels around the exterior to create a lively facade.

And like the downtown HQ, the Hollenbeck station strives to be a good neighbour, with a community room and free wi-fi in landscaped grounds, housed on a site that looks like it “could be a concert hall or a museum”, says Moore, the city engineer. “That’s very important to us,” he adds, “because civic buildings should be iconic. Even police stations.”

Laying down the law — Australia

Kerstin Thompson, who is based in Melbourne with her firm Kerstin Thompson Architects, describes her Warrandyte police station in Victoria as a “little furry animal”. An unusual judgement passed on a building from wherein law is enforced. But this is what the Warrandyte station actually looks like, with its green brickwork, nestled in bushland in outer Melbourne. “A lot of police stations have the language of a fortress with small windows but I wanted to make this place more friendly,” she says. With only one small lock-up, the police station is open 16 hours a day and takes in more lost dogs than high drama.

“The community of Warrandyte see themselves as green and eco, and I wanted to give a face to the station that reflected those green values. “I always try to engage with a sense of what is going on with the locals,” says Thompson, who has been in practice since 1994. She recently went to the station to take photographs and found that the police officers also loved the new office. “There’s a lot of natural light and they can look at the bush as they have their cup of tea,” she says.

The success of the project has led to a new commission to build a regional 24-hour police station in Carram Downs, in outer Melbourne. “I want to break down perceptions of police buildings and make them more approachable.”

Technological fire-starters

Protecting and serving is getting smarter – and better looking. From Motorola’s latest two-way radio to a slick Danish fire and rescue firm, here’s a look at five firms leading the way.
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Air and grace

Eurocopter’s twin-engined EC145 is a highly regarded light utility helicopter for the police, search and rescue (SAR) and air ambulance roles. It blends European technical know-how in cockpit design and avionics with a lightweight airframe developed by Kawasaki; the design work was split between Germany and Japan, with the first prototypes built at Eurocopter’s Donauwörth facility and Kawasaki’s factory in Gifu. The four-bladed titanium main rotor hub and blades are designed to run quietly and reduce vibration.

Operators include the French Gendarmerie, London’s Metropolitan Police, Switzerland’s REGA and Germany’s ADAC air rescue.

Cutting it fine

It may come as a surprise that welfare states such as Denmark and Sweden prefer to hand over part of their emergency services to private companies. Less surprising is that they want their citizens to be rescued by the best, and of course, by the best looking. Danish firm Falck has been getting people out of fires and into ambulances since 1906. Today, it runs 85 per cent of Denmark’s ambulance service and 65 per cent of its fire brigade, and is growing abroad. Exporting the Falck model means sending its teams to train local staff and making sure that the firm’s practical but sleek uniforms developed by Danish creative agency Bysted and the company logo – a flying falcon first designed in the 1930s – become instantly recognisable.

Radio star

In the area of mission critical design Motorola is in the vanguard. This summer it launched the APX 7000, a two-way radio for emergency workers. The APX is among the first mobile radios that can switch bandwidths, enabling communication between agencies. “It’s a huge asset in this day and age of homeland security,” says Bruce Claxton, senior director of design integration at Motorola’s Enterprise Mobility division. “Basically you’ve got two radios in one.”

The radio is tuned to emergency workers’ needs with oversized buttons and knobs operable with large gloves, a screen visible in dust and smoke, and a speaker 50 per cent louder — all in a package 15 per cent smaller than older versions.

Home stretch

System Strobel’s new four-stretcher carrier for ambulances is designed for large-scale emergencies including environmental disasters and terrorist attacks. Engineered by the German company in collaboration with Austrian truck-body manufacturer EMPL, the self-supporting double-decked carrier can fit into a variety of vehicles and can also be produced with a hydraulic lift. It’s made with titanium and carbon fibre to reduce its weight to half that of comparable equipment.

Getting shirty

Uniforms are getting greener thanks to new collections being launched by manufacturer Perfection Uniforms. The Tennessee based firm, which supplies tough kits to police and fire departments throughout the US and Canada, is putting its Mtx-Eco and Pin-Eco Series into production. Shirts, trousers and caps will be made using recycled fibres. The items will be super resistant to water and oil, and whisk away sweat thanks to its nanotechnology properties.

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