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Thu Apr 24 21:18:39 SAST 2014

Real life 'Panic Room'

Andrea Nagel | 25 May, 2011 23:130 Comments
POSH FORTRESS: The Safe House, situated on the outskirts of Warsaw in Poland, was designed to give its residents a feeling of maximum security

We already have electric wire, security patrols, armed guards, burglar bars and alarm systems, so I was only half-surprised to read about a South African company called Panic Room that took an idea from the American blockbuster of the same name and made it a reality.

"Think of a panic room as a vault for people," says Grant Anderson, the man behind the concept.

"In a country of gated communities, panic rooms are designed to be the ultimate in security. They range from simple rooms with reinforced doors to elaborate mini-fortresses that protect their occupants against home invasions. High-end panic rooms, made with the most advanced materials, are more like luxury dens than bleak vaults."

It's one thing to have a panic room installed into your house. It's quite another to apply it to the entire building.

A company in Poland has done just that.

KWK Promes, an architectural firm based in Warsaw, created a prototype building, the Safe House, on the outskirts of the city with the intent to provide commissioning residents with the feeling of maximum security at the touch of a panic button.

Completed in 2009, the two-storey concrete monolith residence offers 1859.28m² of spacious living areas, floor to ceiling windows, panoramic views of the surrounding landscape and a beautiful indoor swimming pool.

At once an imposing bunker, no less than an impenetrable fortress, and a glass-walled, open-plan concept home befitting of the pages of glossy architectural and home design magazines, the Safe House has a profound case of architectural schizophrenia.

According to the firm, the client's top priority was "to gain the feeling of maximum security in their future house, which determined the building's outlook and performance. The house took the form of a cuboid in which parts of the exterior walls are movable".

The architects used the idea of a plant opening up during daylight hours and closing for the night as the concept for the dwelling.

When the house is closed, at night, for example, the safe zone is limited to the house's outline. In the daytime, as a result of the walls opening, it extends to the garden. This was accomplished using technically complex solutions, according to the firm. Sliding walls enable the interface of living space and safe zone to occur with the touch of a button.

Other mobile elements include large shutters - 2.8m high, with a width ranging up to 3.5m, opening up to 180 degrees - and a drawbridge leading to the roof terrace above the swimming pool, which can be hoisted up at the first sign of an invasion.

The architects used a company that supplies shipyards and air travel companies to secure the southern elevation of the house with an enormous roll-down gate.

The gate is made with white anodised aluminium which allows it to also be used as a movie projection screen.

The client who commissioned the home may be neurotic in terms of security, but he's also conscious of environmental concerns.

Wide glazing behind the movable walls allow the building to store solar energy during the day in winter and prevent the sun's heat from going into the house during summer.

When the house is closed, the thick outer layer helps the building to accumulate the gained energy. The hybrid heat system means that most of the energy used in the house is sourced from renewable sources, from a heat pump and from solar systems supported by gas heating. The mechanical ventilation system with heat recovery makes the house, according to the architects, "an intelligent passive building".

Who would want such a house? According to gadget writer Charlie Sorrel, organised criminals, drug-lords, Randy and Evi Quaid, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe or just your common or garden paranoid.

He forgot to mention just about anyone living in our crime-riddled, electric-wired, panic-buttoned, burglar-barred society.

Gregory Katz of Gregory Katz Architecture in Johannesburg has created a similar building, though the defining concept of his concrete block buildings is not security.

"A lot of what I do is an attempt to use engineering materials in a domestic setting in a new, clever way," he told Dwell Magazine.

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