Hostile architecture prevents society’s unwanted from inhabiting public spaces
It goes by many names: hostile, defensive, disciplinary. This style
of architecture, which makes use of spikes, barricades, protrusions and
checkpoints to prevent society’s unwanted from inhabiting public spaces,
is not new. But its forms are proliferating, and it can now be found in
urban centers across the globe, from Tokyo to Copenhagen.
The ostensible purpose of defensive architecture
is security, and in some areas, particularly around major government
buildings or high-density shopping malls, this may well be appropriate.
But this style of design cannot be untethered from broader anti-vagrancy
efforts, particularly in the United States.
AlterNet’s activism editor Alyssa Figueroa recently wrote
about the many examples of municipal legislation used to restrict the
movements and behaviors of the homeless; in California alone, there are
500 such laws on the books. They criminalize behaviors such as resting,
begging, food-sharing or public urination, not taking into account how
difficult it is for homeless people to find open beds in shelters,
afford access to public restrooms, or pay fines. Hostile architecture
facilitates the work of law enforcement by making it physically
impossible for the homeless to inhabit public spaces. Neither approach
actually addresses the root causes of homelessness, but instead shoves
it out of sight.
Though defensive architecture primarily targets
the homeless, it has profound and far-reaching social consequences.
Teenagers, skateboarders, the elderly, pregnant, and infirm are all
affected by spiked benches that don’t allow them a place to rest or by
aggressive music designed to drive them away. “By making the city less
accepting of the human frame,” Andreou writes, “we make it less
welcoming to all humans. By making our environment more hostile, we
become more hostile within it.”
Here are five examples of how disciplinary architecture is transforming the built environment of our cities.
1. Spikes, Cones and Pig’s Ears
These are one
of the most ubiquitous examples of defensive architecture. Tiny metal
spikes along fences, in doorways and on highway underpasses make it
impossible for people to sleep or sit on these surfaces. Typically
smooth surfaces like sidewalks become riddled with spikes, cement cones
and protrusions. Pig’s ears, or small metal flanges, are inserted along
low dividing walls and benches to deter skateboarders from riding on
them. In Barcelona, a city with an enduring history
of street prostitution, corrugated metal strips are attached to
pull-down security grates in order to prevent prostitutes from
congregating in shop doorways. And in China’s Shangdong province, city
officials have installed coin-operated park benches that briefly retract their metal spikes only after the sitter feeds the meter.
Spikes ring a building entrance in Bristol, UK. (Courtesy of Nils Norman, Urbanomics Archive)
2. Pavement Sprinklers
convenient thing about defensive architecture is that it’s easy to come
up with alternate explanations for its existence. Instead of admitting
it's a punitive measure, city officials and store owners can explain it
away as a means of shooing away pigeons, protecting sensitive locations
like banks, or in this example, cleaning the streets.
In 2013, the Strand Bookstore in lower Manhattan, long a landmark for
book-loving bargain hunters—and a refuge for the local homeless
population—took a drastic measure. Managers noticed that people would
camp out overnight under the store’s famous wide red awning, making it difficult for employees to set up the outdoor book carts in the morning and deterring potential customers. In response, they installed overnight pavement sprinklers that doused the sleepers and their possessions with periodic blasts of water.
store manager insisted the sprinklers’ sole purpose was to keep the
sidewalks clean and free of refuse. This would be much easier to believe
or to write off as a coincidence if similar measures hadn’t been
implemented in other cities, such as Hamburg and Guangzhou.
3. Unpleasant Noises
all aspects of defensive architectural are structural. Some rely on
aural and visual cues to disperse unwanted individuals. In 2012,
managers at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in downtown San Francisco resorted to
unusual extremes to prevent people from sleeping on the auditorium
steps. Using large outdoor speakers, management blasted the iTunes
“industrial” soundtrack, a cacophony of motorcycle, jackhammer and
chainsaw noises, from 11pm to 7am. The Vice President of Another Planet
Entertainment, the company that manages the auditorium, called the
soundtrack a “tremendously effective deterrent.”
techniques have been used to target teenagers and prevent them from
congregating in public parks and major downtown areas. So-called "mosquito” devices emit high-pitched tones that are only audible to young people—the human equivalent of a dog whistle.
4. Checkpoints and Privatized Public Space
claiming sidewalks, public parks and city squares as private space,
architects and store chains radically decrease the number of areas
where the homeless can rest or sit. These areas are delineated with
signs, barricades and in some downtown areas, militaristic checkpoints.
Artist Nils Norman
has spent the last two decades documenting examples of disciplinary
architecture from around the world. He has found countless incidents of
the private reclamation of areas that were once communal, from checkpoints that block off streets in Manhattan’s Financial District to signs
warning passersby that London’s Paternoster Square is private land and
cannot be entered without permission. As proof of how access to communal
spaces is selectively enforced, these signs were only erected after
Occupy London protesters attempted to camp out in the square.
A checkpoint in lower Manhattan. (Courtesy of Nils Norman, Urbanomics Archive)
5. Benches and Seating
In California, legislators recently introduced
the Right to Rest Act, a law that would protect all citizens’ right to
occupy public spaces without fear of harassment or arrest. This
legislation seems particularly critical given that cities are
intentionally designing benches, seating and public squares to be off
limits for homeless people looking for a place to sit or sleep. Nils
Norman has chronicled hundreds such examples, from curved subway station perches that are fit only for leaning against to bus stop seats separated by dividers, preventing people from lying down. The curved design of benches in public parks also renders them unfit for sleeping.
design tweaks are so subtle ordinary people probably wouldn’t notice
them, but to homeless people, they speak volumes. Ocean Howell, a
University of Oregon professor quoted in Andreou’s Guardian
article, says, “When you’re designed against, you know it…. The message
is clear: you are not a member of the public, at least not of the public
that is welcome here.”
A perch-style subway rest in Lausanne, Switzerland. (Courtesy of Nils Norman, Urbanomics Archive)
taken from here
Has it happened so gradually that we didn't pay attention to what was happening or did we fall prey to the public safety mantra? So much of what we considered our public space has incrementally been acquired by private owners - even a shopping mall can be considered not public space, yet who are there spending their money if not the public? is this the kind of society we want to live in where we accept that there are huge numbers of homeless people and then we acquiesce in denying them even a place to lie down? Capitalism has bred sick societies which deny increasing numbers access to basic necessities. Only we can change that by pushing together against the status quo, stating loud and clear that enough is enough. We have had more than enough of this egregious system and together we aim to change it for a truly social society.