Jersey Barriers: A Battleground of Security vs Aesthetics

Modular concrete barriers––sometimes referred to as Jersey barriers––have been a feature of our highways for decades, most often to separate traffic lanes.  Typically, they are featureless, grey slabs, 32” high, made from steel-reinforced concrete.  They are not particularly edifying constructions but, if your only sight of them is when hurtling along in your car on the motorway, few artistic sensibilities are injured.

However, in recent years, Jersey barriers have begun to come in from the motorways to increasingly invade our cities; tending to concentrate around buildings and places of particular historic or cultural beauty and importance.

Of course, the Jersey barriers’ rapid expansion is as a direct consequence of the newly-emerged threat of terrorism by vehicle, as has been witnessed with devastating effect in Nice; Berlin; and London.  Governments have been commendably swift to attempt to protect citizens and potential targets of terrorism by erecting protective blockades.  Zipper machines have criss-crossed cities, depositing their ugly but necessary wares.

500 jersey barrier

Perhaps now, though, there is a moment to reflect and refine the practice; look at the aesthetic considerations as well as the security ones?

There is no getting away from the fact that Jersey barriers are utilitarian rather than decorative.  And while concrete can be used with striking Brutalist effect––witness the Geisel Library in La Jolla, California; the Hôtel du Lac in Tunis; or the Trellick Tower in Kensal Town, London––the Jersey barrier is never going to win any beauty contests.  Where this may not matter on the motorway, it does in the city.  If nothing else, the stark bleakness of the Jersey barrier is a constant reminder of the potential threat of terrorism; a battle, which is won and lost more in the mind than it ever is on the ground.

So, what should be done?  Os Bros advocate the beautification of the Jersey barrier.  It need not require a sea-change of design: add a gully along the top of the slab, which can be filled with soil and then planted out with flowers; decorate their sides with representations of the landscape they are labouring to protect; or liberate their surfaces as canvases for street and urban artists.

© Os Bros


Os Bros hope to liven up the humble Jersey barrier.

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