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Police Architecture

Within criminology there has been much interest in the architecture of prisons and courts, from the work of Michel Foucault through to more recent contributions by Yvonne Jewkes, Jonathan Simon and others.

There has been less interest in the architecture of other aspects of criminal justice. Professor Andrew Millie has started to fill this gap with research into the architecture of the police estate. Drawing on semiotics Professor Millie’s research suggests that police stations can be ‘read’ as one of three types of structure. Firstly, the police station can be a reassuring presence within the community where the public are welcomed. These are truly ‘public’ buildings. Secondly, they can be intimidating and impenetrable fortresses, places where the public are not welcome – a clear example being the highly securitized police stations of Northern Ireland during ‘the troubles’, what Jonathan Olley (2007) has called the castles of Ulster. A third type of station is the secret police station. Some police buildings are deliberately secret, but others are just hard to find, not helped by the decision of some forces to build new stations in out-of-town locations. Others are secret as they merge into the background due to poor signage.

Professor Millie’s research has found that stations that appear welcoming are possible. He acknowledges that the public side to a station has to be balanced with the processing of suspects and the reporting of offenders on bail. But here too the architecture and design of the ‘tradesman’s’ entrance and custody suite can be more sympathetic. During times of austerity many police stations have closed with nothing to replace them. While not all stations are reassuring, Millie has argued that their sale may be a case of selling the family silver (Millie, 2014). Even a police station with poor architecture can be re-appropriated and redesigned to become a reassuring presence in the community.

Professor Millie has taken this research area further as part of a major ESRC-funded project into ‘Visible Policing’ – which explores the affective properties of police buildings, images and material culture. This project runs from 2019 to 2021 and is in partnership with Professor Mike Rowe and Liam Ralph (Northumbria University) and Dr Matt Jones (Open University).

If you would like to learn more about this topic please contact Professor Andrew Millie.


  • Millie, A. (2014) ‘What are the police for? Re-thinking policing post-austerity’, in J.M. Brown (ed.) The Future of Policing, Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Millie, A. (2012) ‘Police stations, architecture and public reassurance’, British Journal of Criminology, 52(6) 1092-1112.