Preventing Suicide With Architecture
In 2003, in two separate incidents, two students at New York University committed suicide inside the tall atrium of the university's main library by jumping from its open, inward-facing balconies. Officials responded to the tragedies by installing Plexiglas barriers around the edges of the balconies. In 2009, another student climbed over those barriers to make another deadly leap. Now, the university is hoping a new cage-like installation of fencing along these balconies will finally stop people from killing themselves inside this building.
You can surely understand the reasons officials are not referring to the new fencing as a suicide barrier. But that's what it is. And many other places are building or considering similar projects to prevent recurring suicides.
Cornell University and Ithaca, New York, will be installing safety netting under bridges in the area in response to a similar spate of suicides among students. In Allentown, Pennsylvania, officials have decided to install suicide prevention fences on a local historic bridge when renovations are made in 2014.
This issue is of concern nowhere more than San Francisco, where the Golden Gate Bridge is said to be the world's most common site for suicide, with more than 1,500 recorded deaths since its opening 75 years ago. There have been calls for decades for a net to be installed on the bridge that would catch any jumpers and, ideally, prevent people from even thinking about jumping in the first place. Plans to install such a net are currently in the works, and $5 million has been dedicated to prepare a design for the suicide deterrent. But, as critics are quick to point out, that still leaves a hole of $45 million to complete the project.
Expensive, sure. But it's also a project that would likely dissuade people from jumping off the bridge. It would also change the appearance of the bridge, one of the most iconic in the world.
Projects like these do raise broader questions about whether designs should be altered in order to stop these tragedies from recurring. Three people committing suicide in one NYU building is inarguably awful. But as long as there are tall buildings and bridges, determined people are going to jump off them. Should every potential suicide site be retrofitted – or designed form the start – to prevent that potential?
Top image courtesy NYU Local