Urban spaces are rapidly being designed and developed in urban spheres. Public networks, city hubs, public buildings and plazas are constantly evolving to define and refine a city’s infrastructure. Urban planners introduced ‘Hostile Architecture‘ to better the communication and functionality of urban regions. When the idea to advance a space initiates, is it done considering the huge diversity of people, or is it done merely for the sake of providing better functional requirements for the public? Do only self-sufficient people deserve urban zones and amenities?

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Urban Space_©thecoolhunter.net
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©esa.int

Architecture is people-oriented, it has nothing to do with finances that state a person’s status in society. The British-Indian Architect, Laurie Baker, has massively designed residences for the ones in need. It is not the profession or social status that urged him to build, but the need to serve his fellows with low-cost buildings incorporated with energy-efficient solutions.

What is Hostile Architecture?

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Benches designed for the South Philadelphia Transit
Authority_©Halkin Mason Photography

The word ‘hostile’ simply means something that is ‘unfriendly.’ The term combined with ‘architecture’ gives rise to an urban design strategy that utilizes a built environment (pathways, arenas, plazas, public spaces). These built environments successfully lead people and train them to function a certain way. All around the world, Hostile Architecture is blooming in different techniques but majorly in the United States. The country houses numerous public spaces that are in constant need of attention and improvement.

Why Hostile Architecture?

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A homeless man sleeping_©exclusive.multibriefs.com

The prime goal of introducing Hostile Architecture is to deter people from skateboarding, sleeping, littering, loitering and public urination. There are various means of executing these hostile elements: metal teeth, bolts separating seating on benches, spikes on railings, metal spikes on lower walls, which perfectly trigger an uncomfortable feeling and an emotion of unfriendliness. 

Many places give sprinklers so that no one rests under a shelter since it attracts crowds. Shops, retail outlets, privately owned public spaces, etc., have blaring sound systems that are high pitched alarms and scare away homeless people.

Hostile Architecture in the United States

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©topic.com

Hostile Architecture didn’t come into practice recently; there have been urban planners who have built spaces with techniques that either welcome people or divert them in hundreds of ways. This strategy functions as an experiment on human psychology and targets idlers. Many of the major cities are applying Anti-pee Paint which is a type of superhydrophobic paint. 

What happens is when someone is relieving themselves in a privately-owned space or a public plaza, the pee gets reflected. Hence, refraining one from doing so.

New York

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Metal Barriers_©topic.com
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Strand Bookstore_©nypost.com

New York is the home to about 80,000 homeless people and nearly 4,000 live on the streets. The examples of Hostile Architecture are surely no welcome party to the homeless. Concrete barriers are deliberately placed in spaces that are a clear indication of unwelcome behaviour. The iconic ‘Strand Bookstore’ installed sprinkler systems on its red awning.

A homeless family was thrown out from a street so that bicycle racks could be installed but not many bicycles were parked in that region. 

San Francisco

Back in the 1990s, park benches were withdrawn from San Francisco’s Central Plazas, thus making many homeless shelter-less. The same incident occurred at United Nations Plaza in 2001.

Los Angeles

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A man tries to sleep on a Los Angeles bench designed with barriers to limit
movement. _©Tyler Nix

Los Angeles has a lot of regional and local parks. Parks serve people with joy and relaxation, but to some, these are the only homes they can afford.

Portland

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7-11 on Southwest Fourth Avenue and Taylor Street in
downtown Portland installed a noise machine above its door
in an apparent effort to repel homeless people_©StreetRoots

A 7/11 store in Portland, Oregon, US, installed high pitched alarms to keep idlers away. These blaring alarms are commonly used examples of Hostile Architecture.

Loitering and Seating

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Bench with division_©topic.com
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Railings_©George Etheredge for The NYT
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Garden Walls_©George Etheredge for The NYT

There are always benches, seats, metal chairs welded to the ground in every public space. The benches serve their purpose, but they are mostly divided with armrest lookalikes. People often misinterpret these for arm supports, but they are welded to divide the long bench into segments so that one does not get too comfortable. This is not just the case for open public spaces; the transit world has a big collection of Hostile Architecture of its own. From slanting surfaces to limited seating space design, there are abundant examples in major cities all over the planet.

Railings and Supports

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Railing_©topic.com
Fence and Metal Spikes_©topic.com

One might think that Hostile Architecture is just an implementation for plane horizontal surfaces, but that is not the scope. Small garden walls, railings, fire hydrant systems, fences, awning and many more are being equipped with solid metal spikes. Imagine how tragic and uncomfortable it is for the ones who have no shelter and nowhere to go at night. The critics boldly state that this is a mass eradication of homeless people and a senseless design that exposes thousands of homeless people to harsh conditions.

A public space is called ‘public’ because it is accessible to anyone and everyone. Creating hostile environments through architecture is preposterous behaviour, and the applications give rise to absurdity. Designers and urban planners need to find a path that works as a filter between guided spaces and a welcoming space even for the homeless because that is the only way our society can grow in all aspects. After all, Architecture is of the people, by the people and for the people.

References

Jock, K. (2019). You are not welcome here: Anti-homeless architecture crops up nationwide. [online] news.streetroots.org. Available at: https://www.streetroots.org/news/2019/06/07/you-are-not-welcome-here-anti-homeless-architecture-crops-nationwide

Hu, W. (2019). “Hostile Architecture”: How Public Spaces Keep the Public Out. The New York Times. [online] 8 Nov. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/08/nyregion/hostile-architecture-nyc.html.

INSP. (2019). The United States has a hostile architecture problem. Is public space becoming private? • INSP. [online] Available at: https://insp.ngo/the-united-states-has-a-hostile-architecture-problem-is-public-space-becoming-private/.

Author

As an architecture enthusiast she takes active interest in exploring different ethnicities and tries to find a perfect medium to integrate the cultural diversities from an architect’s as well as a writer’s point of view. Pure imagination and knowledge is what she conveys through her words.

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