Problem ‘Seeking’ Rather Than Solving

Address problems during the project design phase before they are incorporated into a building

I was recently fortunate enough to have a gifted architect, Les Nichols AIA, enlighten me on a very useful concept used by top architects to improve their building processes. Les pointed out that this concept can be useful to improve safety, security and emergency preparedness not only on new construction and renovation projects, but for almost any profession where strategic decision making is involved. 

Based on the architectural textbook by the same title, problem seeking involves an active process of seeking potential problems that will follow a course of action, such as a building design. For example, by actively and intentionally questioning design features and concepts early in the design process, it may be possible to spot, address and avoid significant problems that will surface and be much regretted later. 

For example, there are thousands of K-12 schools utilizing open design concepts and round work and learning spaces that were built in the United States in the 1970s. Educators have typically found these designs to be extremely problematic not only from a security, safety and emergency preparedness standpoint, but from an educational aspect as well.

When presenting to a group of educators, campus safety officials and architects recently, they agreed that most if not all of these schools would likely not have been built the way they were had the problem seeking approach been utilized properly. This would have saved countless headaches for administrators, security and police personnel, school staff and students over the past several decades.

Les emphasized that problem seeking involves a willingness to ask the right questions at the right time in the design process to identify and then attempt to resolve potential problems before they become incorporated into the final design of a construction project. By asking the same questions a well informed expert witness, attorney, reporter or family member of a victim might ask in the wake of a tragedy, he maintains that we may avoid a wide array of pitfalls than can and often do occur.

Makes a lot of sense to me.

Thanks for what you do to make the world a safer and more enjoyable place.

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About the Author


Michael Dorn serves as the Executive Director of Safe Havens International, a global non profit campus safety center. During his 30 year campus safety career, Michael has served as a university police officer, corporal, sergeant and lieutenant. He served as a school system police chief for ten years before being appointed the lead expert for the nation's largest state government K-20 school safety center. The author of 25 books on school safety, his work has taken him to Central America, Mexico, Canada, Europe, Asia, South Africa and the Middle East. Michael welcomes comments, questions or requests for clarification at Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.

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