Cities have always struggled with the tension between the different needs of social classes who share the space. But as The Guardian documents, a new trend of defensive — and some times overtly hostile — architecture is changing the urban landscape, and not in a good way.
Defensive architecture refers to modifications of buildings and public space, often too subtle to be noticed by the general public, designed to discourage certain groups of people from loitering. ‘Homeless spikes’, studs in the ground that prevent people from sleeping rough, are the most obvious example, but it can include things like slanting windowsills to stop people sitting, benches with armrests that make it impossible to lie down, or sprinklers that intermittently come on but aren’t really watering anything.
But as Alex Andreou explains in the feature, defensive architecture hurts more than just the homeless:
There is a wider problem, too. These measures do not and cannot distinguish the “vagrant” posterior from others considered more deserving. When we make it impossible for the dispossessed to rest their weary bodies at a bus shelter, we also make it impossible for the elderly, for the infirm, for the pregnant woman who has had a dizzy spell. By making the city less accepting of the human frame, we make it less welcoming to all humans. By making our environment more hostile, we become more hostile within it.
Against a backdrop of increasing urbanisation, Andreou raises an important point. As cities grow in size and density, we’ll need to be careful to ensure that the space is welcoming to everyone. Sticking spikes in the ground probably isn’t a great way to ensure that.