Is Hostile Architecture the answer to Public Spaces?

Aryo Sumbogo | Monday, 10 October 2022

Nowadays, more modern cities understand how important public space is to society. These spaces are designed with a spectacular concept to support the user's comfort. However, in the development of urban design, one strategy is precisely the opposite of the principles of public space.

Tubular seating is an example of the application of Hostile Architecture in city parksTubular seating is an example of the application of Hostile Architecture in city parks (Image courtesy of Yumiko Hayakawa).

Hostile Architecture is an urban design strategy that utilizes its constituent elements to limit unwanted user activity. As a result, public space has deviated from its main principles: freedom, ease of access, inclusivity, security, and comfort. Unfortunately, the public spaces designed with Hostile Architecture inadvertently discriminate against users from certain circles, such as the homeless, elderly, and people with disabilities.

There is even a garden that adds sharp serrations over its seats to prevent the homeless from sleeping thereThere is even a garden that adds sharp serrations over its seats to prevent the homeless from sleeping there (Image courtesy of George Etheredge/The New York Times).

Hostile architecture practice first took place in England in the 19th century. The original goal was quite good, to reduce commendable acts in public spaces, such as open urination, to crimes. Unfortunately, as its emergence was also influenced by social, economic, and political pressures, Hostile Architecture is now becoming a 'threat' to the existence of a comfortable and inclusive public space.

A sloping bar that replaces the function of conventional seating at a bus stop or train station (Image courtesy of Kevin C Downs/New York Daily News)A sloping bar that replaces the function of conventional seating at a bus stop or train station (Image courtesy of Kevin C Downs/New York Daily News).

The height of this sloping bar is not universal so it cannot be used as it should be by some
The height of this sloping bar is not universal so it cannot be used as it should be by some (Image courtesy of BertJPDXBKLN on Reddit).

Due to its over-implementation, it is not impossible that Hostile Architecture can harm users of public spaces. People outside its target can also feel the same way, that is, discomfort. For example, eliminating conventional seating at bus stops was replaced with a sloping bar to lean on while waiting for a bus. The reason for using that sloping bar is to prevent the homeless from sleeping at the bus stop. But what happens on the ground often doesn't match what was expected. For some people, the sloping bar could not be used as a substitute for seating. Either because the position is too high or low.

These boulders are placed along the sidewalk to prevent the homeless from settling thereThese boulders are placed along the sidewalk to prevent the homeless from settling there (Image courtesy of Danielle Baskin).

Today's public spaces should be designed more on their main principles. Then, things that are not desirable in public spaces can be avoided in other ways. Such as increasing user awareness to participate in maintaining the safety and comfort of public spaces or establishing effective and efficient regulations. That way, public space can serve everyone, not only certain circles.

This bench with an uneven surface can still be used by people as a seat, but it does not provide comfortThis bench with an uneven surface can still be used by people as a seat, but it does not provide comfort (Image courtesy of Factory Furniture).

 

References:

15 Examples of Hostile Architecture around the World

‘Hostile Architecture’: How Public Spaces Keep the Public Out

Inclusive Public Space

 

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