How Hostile Architecture Targets the Homeless


Design of public spaces is usually meant to benefit everyone, but what about the homeless population?

Take a walk around New York City’s subway system and you may see curious looking benches. They don’t have seats, and instead of letting you rest and sit down, you’re meant to lean your body up against the tilted wooden blocks set at back level. It’s a strange design and on the surface, it may not seem apparent that there’s any reason for these to exist other than affordability and a gimmicky design. The reality is that public features such as this are intended to keep the homeless out of certain spaces—it’s all part of a concept called hostile architecture.

What is Hostile Architecture?

This concept doesn’t just apply to designs intended to deter homeless people but any kind of design that discourages certain behaviors. Take, for example, curbs or walls in certain cities. Some are designed with anti-skate bars affixed along the edges to prevent skateboarders from grinding on the surfaces. While hostile architecture has been applied in an attempt to influence all kinds of behaviors, the homeless have been particularly targeted by these design decisions in an attempt to keep them out of public spaces.

How Are The Homeless Targeted?

It’s easy to see these design choices being prominently employed in any major city. Take a look at many of the benches now being made for cities—it isn’t atypical for the bench to be split up by bars, which may seem like they may be armrests, but the reality is that these are often designed this way to discourage people from sleeping on them.

Sometimes anti-homeless design decisions are more apparent and obvious. In 2014, The Atlantic covered reactions to anti-homeless floor studs installed near a building to keep the homeless from sleeping there. The floor studs were met with negative reactions, with many agreeing that it wasn’t exactly humanitarian to remove places for an already-disenfranchised group of people to sleep. If we’re only morally outraged at obvious attempts to prohibit the homeless from existing in cities and public spaces, however, we’re missing out on what’s really gone awry with these design decisions.

Is Hostile Architecture Helping?

Hostile architecture seems to be an extension of the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. By erasing homeless people from public view, we’re better able to deny their existence entirely, worry about other things, and continue to let homelessness be an issue. Instead of allocating so many resources to stop the homeless from being able to get a night’s rest, we ought to be trying to address the causes of homelessness and trying to remedy the problem, rather than pretend it doesn’t exist.

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