Balancing Security and Accessibility: Selecting door hardware for mixed-use facilities

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by Ann Matheis
The design process for any building involves a great deal of conflict resolution. A careful balance must be struck between convenience, security, life safety, and aesthetics—particularly at the structure’s openings. This is a complicated goal to achieve in any setting, but mixed-use facilities present unique challenges.

Unlike traditional offices, mixed-use buildings typically feature a combination of retail, office, and dining spaces on the ground level with living space—generally apartments and condominiums or hotel rooms—above. Without the right door hardware and security solutions in place, it can be difficult to both make customers and guests feel welcome and maintain the safety and security of residents and staff.

Access control systems can help professionals balance these concerns, but it is important to be aware of how those systems can impede authorized access for the elderly and people with disabilities. Although working with hardware and security experts can help mitigate many access control-related issues, some are not currently addressed by the codes. By being aware of the challenges these systems present, and by including appropriate solutions in the design process, architects can play a vital role in improving safety and convenience for all occupants. This begins with understanding best practices for designing and implementing access control systems within mixed-use facilities.

Types of openings
Before examining problems and solutions relevant to access control systems, it is important to understand the kinds of openings to which they may apply. Openings common in mixed-use facilities include:

  • main entrances, where a single credential provides access to multiple openings;
  • resident entrances, which require strong and secure locks paired with stylish interior door hardware;
  • stairwells and emergency exits, which need durable door hardware able to perform with minimal maintenance;
  • media rooms and common areas, which must balance ease of use with proper egress compliance;
  • conference centers and business offices, which typically remain unlocked and accessible during business hours while the rest of the building remains secure; and
  • areas with unique requirements, such as pools, fitness rooms, daycare facilities, and parking garages.

Planning ahead
In most facilities, there are multiple openings to secure, and a variety of people in need of differing levels of access. Each of the multiple uses of this type of facility also brings its own demands. It can be difficult to know where to begin.

One of the mistakes most frequently made by designers is failing to incorporate doors and hardware in the early stages of the design. The later issues like access control and accessibility are addressed, the more likely they are to create problems for the architect, as both directly impact door specifications—which, in turn, determine how an opening must be constructed to comply with fire and life safety codes.

It is also crucial to include the relevant experts in the planning process. Typically, this means the hardware consultant, the security consultant, the integrator, and possibly an electrical engineer should be involved. Access control should be planned for after the initial architectural plans and building layout are complete.

“Ideally, access control planning should occur in conjunction with the hardware design,” says safety and security consultant, Derek Ommert, PSP. “By relying on industry subject matter experts early in the process, architects are better able to consider the reliability of access control as well as the environment for which it’s planned.”

Ommert gives the example of a mixed-use facility where the access control system must both provide a secure residential area and allow customers and staff access to varying parts of the same facility. Consulting with experts on these issues will go a long way toward ensuring a satisfactory outcome. They can help to identify key issues that must be addressed, such as:

  • whether time and attendance for employees will be integrated into the access control system;
  • whether the locks will be accessed in an interior location or an exterior one where weather may be a concern;
  • how deeply each user’s access and movement within the facility will be monitored;
  • how important aesthetics will be;
  • whether there are any cost limitations;
  • what the top priorities are; and
  • what types of openings will be in use (e.g. resident doors, high-traffic public doors, private amenity space entrances, or emergency exits).
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