Navigating Australian police station design with expertise and sensitivity

Modern police stations are integral to Australian communities. They are dynamic hubs encompassing diverse functions and spaces – far beyond simply law enforcement – with a design approach that is deeply collaborative at every level. But in the face of great change, how do we design the police stations of the future?
Read on to learn how Hames Sharley’s 5-D Systems approach applies to usher in a new era of progressive policing and forward-thinking design...

Police stations in Australia have historically been strategically located in town centres and key sites in the landscape. They are integral components of Australian communities providing services beyond law enforcement – they are dynamic hubs where security, accessibility, and community engagement intersect. Their design is archetypical in city architecture, with old stations undergoing refurbishment and new ones designed to adapt to contemporary policing models.

Modern police stations encompass diverse functions and spaces, including public reception areas, interview rooms, and forensic laboratories. Integral to community policing initiatives, these facilities prioritise engagement and collaboration with residents, promoting trust and safety. However, balancing security with accessibility remains paramount in design, necessitating careful consideration of layout and technology integration.

Police station design in Australia presents unique challenges, from stringent security requirements of specialised zones, ethical considerations surrounding privacy and surveillance, and multicultural and multiracial communities. Concurrently, changes in crime patterns necessitate upgrades and innovative solutions to meet evolving requirements, without compromising quality or safety. Future-proofing designs are necessary to adapt to evolving needs. With this, strategic investments in response to demographic shifts are crucial for proactive policing and enhancing visibility.

State governments are investing in the law enforcement sector to improve community safety and enhance law enforcement capabilities. They are focusing on urgent repairs, upgrades and new construction to revitalise ageing police facilities across all jurisdictions. This proactive approach aims to modernise infrastructure with advanced technology and amenities, ensuring operational efficiency. Reinvestment in existing assets promotes cost-effectiveness and supports workplace well-being through smart fund allocation and quality design strategies. Some of the challenges of existing assets include prohibitive renovation costs and spatial constraints, climatic morphology and sustainable solutions which are not uniformly feasible and the capacity and location of existing infrastructure.

These unique design challenges necessitate expertise, sensitivity, skill and capability to appreciate systems, operational and tactical design needs, and an understanding approach that requires multi-dimensional thought. Given the multifaceted scope of police stations such as providing support, fostering relationships and implementing safety and crime prevention strategies, achieving quality design outcomes requires a delicate balance between meeting security imperatives, community needs, design-led research and government support.

Hames Sharley’s 5-D approach

Hames Sharley’s ‘5-Dimensional (5-D) Systems’ approach considers:

  1. Environmental systems
  2. Social/urban systems
  3. Political systems
  4. Economic systems
  5. Technological/connectivity systems, to the design of future police stations.

This approach is anticipated to be heavily influenced by several key factors, including technological innovation shaping capability, capacity building and business-as-usual policing, community needs, sustainability, operational efficiency, and urban integration.

Through the ‘5-D’ lens, we can draw insights from the trends and critical areas outlined in various justice infrastructure plans and initiatives and extrapolate several potential directions for future police station design, as follows:

  • Government investments in renovating police stations to provide modern workplaces that support changing policing models, ensuring security, resilience and community confidence. Locally integrated staff wellbeing services, along with fitness facilities, recreational spaces, biophilia and external amenity, provide respite, beneficial for all staff but particularly for first responders and operational personnel.
  • Maintaining, restoring, and improving existing buildings, to extend their life. ‘Locking-in’ embodied carbon—an adaptive approach to achieving net zero carbon emissions targets, aligns with sustainability goals outlined in the infrastructure planning of future police stations, which are expected to embrace green building principles and renewable energy solutions to reduce environmental impact and operational costs. This could include integrated solar panels, rainwater harvesting systems and energy-efficient building materials.
  • Stations designed for resilience and operational continuity, especially in regions with frequent extreme weather events. Modularity, materiality, and form, combined with historical empathy, are crucial for community presence and creating spaces that resonate with their surroundings. Recognising the uniqueness of each site and context adds value and authenticity to the built environment. Site access ensures inclusivity and connectivity while honouring the area’s historical and cultural significance.
  • Investment in upgrading ICT, incorporating advanced digital infrastructure such as interactive touchscreens, for community services, real-time data analytics for predictive policing, advanced security systems for enhanced safety and surveillance, and cross-jurisdictional interoperability. Future stations will also focus on flexibility and adaptability, with modular construction techniques allowing easy space reconfiguration. Advanced facilities for evidence processing, forensic analysis, and emergency response will also be integrated to optimise workflow efficiency and resource utilisation.
  • Incorporating flexible multipurpose spaces for meetings, youth programs, and victim support services, which promote community engagement and inclusivity and are integrated seamlessly into the urban fabric as precincts co-located with other public amenities and facilities, to create more accessible civic spaces. Smart design extends beyond the building envelope, focusing on well-lit and open internal planning, and innovation, as not every space within a station requires stringent security. The use of elements like louvred facades, for example, can simultaneously facilitate both visibility and privacy and redefine the visual language of modern police stations. Additionally, stations may feature transparent design elements, such as glass facades, promoting transparency and collaboration between police and the community.

The role of expertise in police station design

Police station design requires expertise in police operations, security protocols, and human behaviour. As designers, we collaborate with stakeholders to identify operational needs and create environments conducive to positive interactions, collaboration, and professionalism. Inclusivity in the design process leads to transparency, promotes ownership in the process and outcomes, and drives innovation. By actively involving stakeholders, we create tailored solutions, enhancing efficiency and functionality while empowering community connections.

Drawing upon cross-jurisdictional expertise, Hames Sharley challenges conventional norms in both present and future policing. Through collaborative partnerships with numerous jurisdictions, our process transcends mere operational innovation, extending to generational shifts and transforming mindsets. This perspective not only informs evolving accommodation criteria but also traditional methodologies, ushering in a new era of progressive and forward-thinking design.

Hames Sharley’s portfolio encompasses new and refurbished projects across our design studios and state jurisdictions. Their expertise includes master planning and existing building refurbishments which underscore the transformative power of reimagining existing spaces and new dedicated and joint emergency service facilities. Through ongoing dialogue and responsiveness to evolving needs, Hames Sharley will continue to advance best practices and create spaces that meet the evolving needs of Australian police jurisdictions and the communities they serve.

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