Ranging from slanting benches to metal spikes, hostile architecture occurs when elements of the built environment are specifically designed to curtail “undesirable” use. Usually, the groups targeted by hostile architecture are homeless people looking for somewhere to rest or teenagers looking for somewhere to play. Not only does this practice contradict the main tenets of public space (i.e., accessibility, freedom of usage, inclusivity), but it is likely to also lower the quality of the space in general.
1. Leaning Bars in New York City, USA
After six months of renovation, these leaning bars appeared in the Bay Ridge’s 53rd station on the R line. Although these beams were said to conserve space, many were quick to criticize their lack of support, especially for those who are elderly, disabled, ill, homeless, or simply want to sit down.
2. Blue-lit public washrooms in British Columbia, Canada
To deter intravenous drug use, public washrooms in Victoria have installed blue lights, which obscure superficial veins. As revealed by many studies, however, drug users will still try to inject themselves in blue-lit bathrooms, thereby increasing risks of infection and soft tissue damage. More broadly, blue light also compromises safety for all washroom users by reducing visibility and making it harder to clean up bodily fluids.
3. Under-road spikes in Guangzhou, China
Spanning nearly 200 square meters beneath the Huangshi highway, these concrete spikes prevent homeless people from using the bridge as shelter, Residents reported that people used to gather under the viaduct but have since been forced to move out.
4. Sectioned benches in England
According to Shelter, around 1 in 200 people in the UK are homeless. Rather than focusing on the root cause of this issue, many areas in England have installed metal bars on its benches so that homeless people cannot sleep on them. This sectioning of benches also limits its seating capacity, impeding ease of public use more generally.
5. Unorthodox benches in Tokyo, Japan
Although these benches aren’t as rigidly-segmented as the ones listed above, their unorthodox designs make it difficult for people to lie down or relax on them.
6. Sidewalk boulders in San Francisco, USA
While walking through her neighborhood, California resident Danielle Baskin noticed two dozen boulders lining a local sidewalk. After some investigation, she discovered that a group of her neighbors had pooled together $2000 to purchase and install “anti-homeless decorations.” Whereas this money could have been invested in programs that actually help homeless people get back on their feet, it was instead spent on obstacles that block parts of the sidewalk for all pedestrians.
7. Obstructed spaces in France
In France, various materials and shapes are used to restrict the free use of public spaces. Sometimes these elements masquerade as art while other times they are obviously hostile. Regardless of their physical appearance, each shares the quality of making spaces less open and accessible.
8. Jagged rocks in Accra, Ghana
In Ghana, hundreds of jagged rocks are strewn among the ground to prevent homeless people from residing there. It’s interesting to note how evident it is that these rocks only serve this one purpose.
9. Ghost amenities in Toronto, Canada
The term “ghost amenities” was coined by public space researcher Tara Chellew to describe a glaring absence of facilities in a public space. “This lack of amenities is done to cut costs, reduce maintenance and reduce vandalism and loitering, but it also disproportionately affects a lot of people who are vulnerable,” explains Chellew. “The lack of benches, the lack of places that offer up shade and shelter, the lack of public washrooms—all these things should be available in public spaces to make them more comfortable and human-centered.”
10. Locked bench in Volgodonsk, Russia
At night, this bench is locked up to prevent it from being used. While the precise target of this locking is unknown, it’s possible to think of several demographics who would benefit from a place to rest but whose presence is often unwanted.
11. Anti-loitering spikes in Mumbai, India
Lining the front of this HDFC Bank branch is several rows of hard, metal spikes. Despite the bank’s statements that they were crucial to reduce loitering, locals immediately pointed out the potentially disastrous outcome should a child, elderly, or disabled person accidentally fall onto the spikes. Following mild outrage on social media, the mats were removed.
12. Metal studs in Adelaide, Australia
In Adelaide’s CBD, a variety of metal elements can be found along with fountains, benches, and walkways. The city maintains that these are only to obstruct skateboarders from grinding on them, which is a form of hostile architecture by seeking to control public use. Regardless of their official intentions, these metal bars also curb people from lying down.
13. Camden benches in London, England
In the words of Frank Swain, the Camden bench is “the perfect anti-object” for its ability to strictly regulate its use. With its irregular curves, it’s difficult for skateboarders to grind on it and for people to lie on it; with its crannyless surface, it’s impossible to stash drugs in or drop garbage through it. The bench was unveiled to the public in 2012 and has faced harsh backlash since. Prominent among public criticism is the fact that it addresses the symptoms of social issues (e.g., homelessness, drug abuse, littering) rather than their origins.
14. Bird spikes in Bristol, England
Architecture is labeled hostile once it impedes use by any group of users, even birds. Pictured below are several rows of spikes affixed to tree branches. While this practice may reduce the amount of bird excrement on cars, it renders the tree uninhabitable.
15. Pay & Sit benches in Shandong, China
In 2008, German sculptor Fabian Brunsing created the Pay & Sit bench as a form of artistic protest against commercialized public spaces. In order to sit down, users have to insert 0.50 € into a coin slot; once the allotted time runs out, small spikes rise from the seat’s bottom, forcing users to move. Needless to say, Brunsing was flabbergasted when park officials in the Shandong Province were inspired by his installation and created their own version of (actual) pay-per-sit benches.