Hostile Architecture [...]

A term for a set of practices that are hostile to common uses for public spaces. It’s considered a form of “unpleasant design”.

“The term hostile architecture is new—or new in the popular vernacular anyway,” says James Petty, a freelance criminologist whose PhD research focuses on the ways in which society regulates homelessness. “But practices of designing cities and urban landscapes in certain ways that favor certain groups of people and not others has been going on for a long time.”

Hostile architecture, also known as defensive architecture, exists on a spectrum. At one end are the overt design features that are obvious to anyone walking by—like spikes and fences. At the other end, says Petty, are the design elements in which “the hostile function is often embedded under a socially palatable function.” (Source)

Examples include:

  • Spiked walls or sidewalk space
  • Benches with divided seating (prevents homeless sleeping on them)
  • Strategically deployed sprinkler systems (prevents urban camping)
  • Pink lighting (unliked by teenagers, prevents loitering).
  • Blue lighting (makes it hard for drug addicts to find veins)

It’s important to note that many of these practices have been around for decades; it is only the term that is relatively new.

It’s also important to note that all design is coercion; hostility is not a new feature as much as a value judgement about the targets of the coercion.

As a prominent example, the famous bench at 149th St. where graffiti artists congregated to spread their art in the 1970s and 80s was also an early example of a segmented bench, hostile to sleeping on by the homeless. Precluding one use may have made possible another, and allowed the development of grafitti’s “benching” culture. See The Writer’s Bench


Consider also Policy Through Bridge Height where urban design enforces segregation.

As an example of positively viewed coercion, see Defensible Space (architecture) or Analytics of Empathy (gaming).

Much Hostile Architecture is a response to homelessness. Housing First shows a better way may be to just give them homes.

Hostile design is different from bad design that is damaging. See Fryscraper for example of the latter.

The Love Bench pushes people together.

Social coercion can have unintended consequences. See From Gallery to Gauntlet

Sexist Architecture can also be seen as hostile, even if “unintentional”

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