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 | Hostile Architecture

After six months of renovation, these leaning bars appeared in 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.

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“I was wondering what it is. I’m on my feet all day… I’d rather have benches instead of this leaning thing” – Doris Gittens, nurse at nearby NYU Langone Hospital-Brooklyn. ©Kevin C Downs for New York Daily News
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The leaning bars may be sufficient for a short wait but the time between trains on the R line are notoriously long, even garnering it the nickname “Rarely line.” ©BertJPDXBKLN on Reddit

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 the 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.

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Swapping out regular light bulbs for blue light does nothing to support drug users or urge them to seek help. ©Keandra Crighton
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A woman inspects her forearm in a Haney Place Mall public washroom. ©Private Officer Magazine

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.

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The concrete teeth appeared overnight; no department or unit stepped forward to take credit for their presence. ©China Hush
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“Concrete spikes under flyovers and bridges are a waste of land,” says Han Zhipeng, delegate to Guangzhou People’s Political Consultative Conference. He cites other uses for these spaces, such as bus and garbage sorting stations. ©China Hush

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.

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In addition to sectioning benches, Bournemouth has employed many other anti-homeless schemes like offering cheap one-way tickets out of the city and playing loud music between midnight and 6 AM. ©The Gryphon UK
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Anti-homeless bench on Granby Street in Leicester. ©jcauva00 via Centre for Urban Research on Austerity

5. Unorthodox benches in Tokyo, Japan | Hostile Architecture

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.

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In addition to being impossible to lie on, this tubular bench gets very hot in the summer and cold in the winter, preventing comfortable repose. ©Yumiko Hayakawa
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A man lies on an uncomfortably short bench. ©Yumiko Hayakawa

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.

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Twenty four boulders were placed along the sidewalk to bar homeless people from settling there. ©Danielle Baskin
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After much back and forth with the city, the boulders were eventually removed. ©Danielle Baskin

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.

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Metal spikes drilled into steps around the sixième arrondissement de Marseille. ©Wikimedia user DC
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A corner near Gare du Nord is blocked with metal bars and studded with rocks. ©Julius-Christian Schreiner
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Stone bollards beside Carrefour supermarket in Boulevard de Clichy. ©Julius-Christian Schreiner
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An excessive amount of metal poles directly in front of a supermarket entrance. ©Twitter user Chad Loder
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Uneven bars in Saint-Ouen prevent homeless people from lying comfortably over the vent’s warm air. ©Twitter user Chad Loder

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.

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©Twitter user Chad Loder
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©Twitter user Chad Loder

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.”

Ghost amenities in Toronto, Canada
Mapping DefensiveTo, a project by Chellew, is the first initiative to track hostile urban design in Toronto’s public and privately-owned public spaces (POPS). ©Jack Landau

10. Locked bench in Volgodonsk, Russia | Hostile Architecture

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.

Hostile Architecture - Locked bench in Volgodonsk, Russia
An interesting combination: inviting turquoise paint and exclusive access. ©AndreyL via Wifire

11. Anti-loitering spikes in Mumbai, India | Hostile Architecture

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 reducing 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.

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These rows of metal spikes prevent people from sitting, loitering, or lying down in front of the bank. ©Twitter user Simon Mundy
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Spikes are a common element in hostile architecture. ©Twitter user Simon Mundy

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.

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Metal edge elements along the Victoria Square Fountain. ©InDaily
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A concrete bench is studded with metal slats in Victoria Square. ©InDaily
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Metal nubs along the Anzac Centenary Memorial Walk. ©InDaily

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.

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The Camden bench was commissioned by Camden Borough Council and designed by Factory Furniture. ©Wikimedia user The wub
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The front groove is intended to protect bags and purses from thieves. ©Failed Architecture
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Since it’s essentially a block of honed concrete, the bench is moved via crane. ©Factory Furniture via Wikipedia

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.

Hostile Architecture - Bird spikes in Bristol, England
Metal spikes prevent birds and other wildlife from climbing and resting on the trees’ branches. ©Twitter user TheGreenParty

15. Pay & Sit benches in Shandong, China | Hostile Architecture

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.

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The Pay & Sit bench. ©Fabian Brunsing
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The spikes are too small to do serious damage, but large enough to be uncomfortable to sit on. ©Fabian Brunsing
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A coin slot under the bench requires that users pay before sitting. ©Fabian Brunsing

Faith Ruetas is a lifelong learner currently hovering along the borders of diverse disciplines. From studying English literature and computer science to philosophy and architecture, she thrives off of interdisciplinary academic exploration.