"WARNING: This bench becomes red hot between 1 AM and 7 AM."

Defensive architecture: keeping poverty unseen and deflecting our guilt:

Defensive architecture is revealing on a number of levels, because it is not the product of accident or thoughtlessness, but a thought process. It is a sort of unkindness that is considered, designed, approved, funded and made real with the explicit motive to exclude and harass. It reveals how corporate hygiene has overridden human considerations, especially in retail districts. It is a symptom of the clash of private and public, of necessity and property.

Pavement sprinklers have been installed by buildings as diverse as the famous Strand book store in New York, a fashion chain in Hamburg and government offices in Guangzhou. They spray the homeless intermittently, soaking them and their possessions. The assertion is clear: the public thoroughfare in front of a building, belongs to the building's occupant, even when it is not being used. [...]

Defensive architecture acts as the airplane curtain that separates economy from business and business from first class, protecting those further forward from the envious eyes of those behind. It keeps poverty unseen and sanitises our shopping centres, concealing any guilt for over-consuming. It speaks volumes about our collective attitude to poverty in general and homelessness in particular. It is the aggregated, concrete, spiked expression of a lack of generosity of spirit.

Ironically, it doesn't even achieve its basic goal of making us feel safer. There is no way of locking others out that doesn't also lock us in. The narrower the arrow-slit, the larger outside dangers appear. Making our urban environment hostile breeds hardness and isolation. It makes life a little uglier for all of us.

Lots of good stuff at the Dismal Garden gallery (I think this is what used to be the "Anti-Sit archives" -- many of the photos look similar, anyway.)

And, one of my favorite background gags from Transmetropolitan, 1999. It took me a little while to dig these out. Can you believe that these images aren't googleable?


"Warning: This bench becomes red-hot between 1 AM and 7 AM. No sleeping."

"This bench releases level 8 virus 10 PM - 6 AM."
"Warning: Writing graffiti on these walls will induce a chemical spray causing blindness."

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14 Responses:

  1. Pavel Lishin says:

    Aw, that poor tree went to tree jail.

  2. joe luser says:

    When Feinstein became mayor, almost her first official action was to replace the benches in bus-stop shelters with those flippy, haha-can't-sleep-here seats. And then crow about it. Which was a very clear sign that she was, and would remain, unfit for public service; though not enough people noticed. The median of Embarcadero alongside the streetcar tracks is an interesting version of this: those things that look like cobblestones but are actually much bigger than cobblestones that don't exactly say "don't walk here" but are intentionally uncomfortable enough that you don't walk there for long.

  3. Foone Turing says:

    "Defensive" in the name seems to be a bit of a softening of the whole premise. It seems like defensive anti-homeless architecture would be things like leaving out benches, making sure your restrooms aren't accessible, not including any features that'd provide protection from rain, etc.

    Spikes, sprinklers, things like that? That's definitely offensive architecture.

  4. Bill Paul says:

    Frankly I don't have anything bad to say about blindness-inducing anti-graffiti walls. I wish my building had them.

  5. waste says:

    In Warsaw (PL) they are currently changing the bus stops to more "modern", so that there will be no chance for anyone to lie on them.

  6. Kyle Huff says:

    Don't forget about the public toilets with glass walls so everyone can see if you're taking a hobo's bath. Need to figure out a place for spikes in there.

  7. Ola says:

    I'm always surprised at how little interaction this stuff seems to have with tort law. One might expect people to be worried about liability from putting spikes everywhere—but evidently, if they only target the poor, property owners can get away with it.

    • mattyj says:

      I'm guessing most (all) of the above photos are not from the US. It's hard enough getting something nice built around here, like a parklet that hardly has any sharp edges.

  8. Lloyd Wood says:

    ...and the San Francisco Catholiic Church. got your religious compassion right here. I hope it's holy water.

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