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Defensive Architecture

Updated: Mar 24, 2020

Defensive architecture is the concept of design intended to detterr particular unwanted types of behaviour such as skateboarding and homelessness. “urban architecture has aimed to exclude unwanted groups of people from different places, a prime example of which is the “gated community.”1

Defensive architecture is not new concept and such pieces of design are commonplace in the surrounding environment. Ever wondered why the London bus benches are so slanted, small and uncomfortable? Benches are a great example of defensive architecture and provide many instances of hostile design. For example in public spaces the seats are individual rather than long communal benches. Other luxury buildings may also appear elegant but their slick sides were designed to make it uncomfortable for loitering and sheltering.

Animals are not exempt from this concept as pigeons are generally targeted and shunned using spikes.

These unwelcoming designs have sparked social outrage due to the moral issues concerning the space. A common objection against hostile architecture is that we have a duty to treat people with respect. Proponents of this view maintain that this duty cannot be fulfilled when we use hostile measures as means to exclude. The debate arises in the fact that inherently public spaces should be designed for the public’s use. In 2015 the well known franchise of Selfridges was met with public protest due to their decision to instal anti-homlesnness spikes at their Manchester store. 

The design of public amenities such as benches can sometimes look “sculptural” but in fact it serves the purpose of being uncomfortable to sleep on, rather than that of aesthetics .

Furthermore, this hostile environment is supported by other inventions such as the anti-urinating corner and the prostitute-loitering-at-the-doorway device in Madrid.

The public has responded to this issue in a range of ways: from bringing pillows to sit on  floor spikes to responses within fashion. A notable example of this came from an artist and researcher Sarah Ross. She created a loungewear collection as a reply to “defensive architecture”.The pieces feature voluminous architectural shapes which fit into the urban landscape shapes of Los Angeles like a jigsaw.

1: Karl de Fine Licht - Hostile urban architecture: A critical discussion of the seemingly offensive art of keeping people away


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