Architecture and Police Values

Glass police station in the country of Georgia demonstrating transparency and openness.

Polis and the Police Station


  • A city state in ancient Greece, especially as considered in its ideal form for philosophical purposes.

An exhibition is currently underway in Chicago which gives the participant a chance to survey the state of architecture today—and to peer inside the heads of the architects creating it.

But what became most interesting for me was the connection between architecture – the modern police station – and the recommendations of President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing (cite).

The following is from “What to See at the Chicago Architecture Biennial – And How to See It” by Whet Moser on the Chicago magazine website.


“At the other end of the spectrum is Studio Gang’s idea for a ‘Polis Station’—turning the 10th District police station into a multi-use facility that would include a law library, day care, and town hall. Jeanne Gang takes as her starting point the Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, the result of President Obama’s push for police reform. Gang’s project asks: What would happen if you applied its recommendations to the built environment?

One half of Gang’s exhibition lays out her idea, and how the firm would expand the idea of the Polis Station to the rest of the district—an interesting idea in itself, thinking of a police district not just as a bureaucratic limit but as a community ecosystem like a neighborhood.

“The other half is the historical argument behind Gang’s Polis Station idea. She follows the development of the modern police station from its beginnings, showing how the physical evolution of police stations paralleled the conceptual evolution of policing. It’s an essay about policing.

“If contemporary policing follows the Final Report—if it starts to look like policing in Cincinnati, inclusive of community needs outside the enforcement of law and order—perhaps police stations will look like Gang’s…”


The question for police leaders today is how can the police station (its architecture) assist the goals of a modern police agency that is committed to community-oriented policing, being a part of the community, and working closely with them?

  • To me, the multi-use image that Studio Gang proposes is exactly the direction we need to go! Press on!


  1. The poleis were very war like, and the center of each polis was often fortified. The flawed underlying assumption in Gang’s proposal is that the police should play the central role in governance. I believe that community policing is an outgrowth of failed governance. Why must the police be the ombudsmen for the poor and dispossessed? Much of what I did when practicing community policing was lobby other departments in city government to perform their duties. The police have become the only part of local governance that literally and figuratively answers the phone regardless of who calls. Just policing should play a pivotal role in governance, but cannot substitute for failed economic development, education, transportation, etc…. The cynic in me believes that the police have become convenient whipping boys that mayors and city councils across America are more than happy to throw under the bus for their failures.


    1. Mark, I see the danger in what you are talking about. Perhaps I have unwittingly bought into the idea of community police officer as “social worker in blue” or ombudsman precisely because we had the authority to work with other agencies in fixing things that needing fixing. I used that authority because others would not or could not help improve live in trouble neighborhoods. Something to think about as we move (hopefully) forward. Thanks for the thought–provoking input!


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