Recent years have seen a movement of people documenting and criticizing what they call hostile design, hostile architecture, or defensive design.
This refers to design features implemented into city and town planning which were created specifically to deter homeless people from finding somewhere to sleep.
It’s one of those things that once it’s pointed out, you start seeing it everywhere. Here are just a few of the most common examples of hostile design to look out for in your city.
What is hostile architecture?
Hostile architecture, otherwise known as anti-homeless architecture, is a form of architectural design to prevent or impede crime and help maintain order. The strategy uses the built environment to discourage malcontents from using public spaces for activities that they were not intended to be used for.
Designs range in scale and type and are generally employed to prevent skateboarding, parkour, littering, loitering, and public urination, among other ‘anti-social’ behavior.
What are some examples of hostile architecture?
And so, without further ado, here are some examples of hostile architecture you might have seen before when walking around town. This list is far from exhaustive and is in no particular order.
1. Slanted benches: More than just an uncomfortable seat
You might’ve noticed slanted benches at train stations or bus stops, and been baffled by how uncomfortable they are to sit on. The sad truth is that they’re specifically designed this way to make them impossible to sleep on.
Benches have always been a go-to for homeless people looking to rest, and to combat this, cities have made benches as uncomfortable as possible while still serving their basic purpose.
2. Armrests on benches: They’re not for your arms
While on the surface these armrests seem innocuous, they’re again a feature that’s been designed to stop people from sleeping on benches. The armrests prevent people from lying across benches, making them impossible to sleep on.
3. Rocky pavements: The reason behind unusual paving
If you see a smooth section of pavement abruptly transition into coarse rocks, it’s probably because someone is trying to stop people from sleeping or begging on that area of the street.
You’ll likely notice this feature under awnings or other shelters, where people would most typically try to take refuge.
4. Spiked windowsills: Not just for the birds
Windows and walls have been spiked in cities for some time now, usually to deter birds from roosting on them. However, many windowsills at ground level are being spiked now too, this time to deter people from sitting or sheltering under the awnings of windows.
5. Segmented benches: An unusual design with a purpose
Benches with imprints or concave grooves to designate where people can sit have become popular across cities recently. As with other modifications to benches on this list, the driving force behind this design choice is to make sleeping on benches impossible.
6. Street spikes: A stark message to those sleeping rough
In addition to stones and rocks, certain areas have been installing spikes into their pavements as a deterrent against homeless people looking for a spot to sleep.
These spikes are usually made of concrete or metal and are placed in or near doorways, under bridges, and other sheltered areas.
7. Awning gaps: Not a flaw, but a design choice
Think that gap in a store’s awning is a flaw? You might be wrong. In many cases, this gap is a deliberate design choice to withhold shelter from those seeking it. It’s subtle, but it’s just another example of the crackdown against people sleeping on the streets.
8. Curved and slanted benches: Purposely uncomfortable
Like the other benches on this list, benches that curve around and/or have their seats slanted are deliberate attempts to stop homeless people from sleeping rough. Because they prevent people from reclining fully, they’re virtually impossible to sleep or sit comfortably on.
9. Barred corners: Shutting out loiterers and others
Not even corners are safe from the influence of hostile design. You might come across corners that are barred or fenced off, to prevent people from begging, loitering, or sheltering there.
10. Street dividers: Pushing the homeless off the streets
Foliage is always a welcome sight in the city, but these planters aren’t always what they appear to be. What looks like a refreshing flash of green in an otherwise concrete jungle can often be an attempt to push homeless people away from the sheltered side of the street.
By directing traffic towards sheltered areas with the aid of dividers, the homeless are left without a clear patch of ground to sleep on.
11. Raised grate covers: Not just an abstract design
This might look like an abstract sculpture, but in reality, it’s been constructed to stop people from sleeping on the grate. Often during colder weather, homeless people will seek out vents and grates to sleep on because of the warmth they release.
The placement of structures like these prevents homeless people from sleeping on grates and staying warm during the winter.
12. Tiered seating: Just try sleeping on these
Similar to benches, tiered public seating like this are designed specifically to deter those who are looking for somewhere to sleep.
Thanks to the tiered structure, it’s impossible to stretch out and get comfortable enough to rest.
13. Fenced grates: Withholding heat
Like the structure seen earlier on this list, fenced grates are also an attempt to stop homeless people from huddling around them for warmth in cold weather. Grates are popular in the winter, as they’re some of the few areas of warmth homeless people can find when the temperature drops.
14. Retractable spikes: Hidden in plain sight
Perhaps you’ve seen metal discs level with the pavement outside certain establishments. Chances are their retractable spikes, which can be pushed up at night to prevent people from sleeping outside the premises.
This allows establishments to appear open and welcoming during the day, without making shoppers uncomfortable with the sight of defensive design.
15. Boulders under bridges: Making rough sleeping rougher
Bridges provide large amounts of shelter and thus are popular spots for people who find themselves sleeping rough. In order to combat the number of people sleeping under bridges, many cities will place large stones or boulders, covering the pavement. This leaves only the roads clear, with no safe area for homeless people to sleep.
The problem with hostile architecture is that it doesn’t aim to address the crisis of homelessness. All it achieves is making life harder for those already struggling. Forcing people to find other places to sleep won’t solve the issue of homelessness.
Now that you’re aware of these structures, why not see how many of them you recognize in your own city.