Hostile design is still a problem in our public spaces – here’s why

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Bars on benches, studs in doorways and barricaded off window ledges are just some of the many measures put in place to lever how public space is used – but after years of backlash, is anything literally changing?

Back in 2012, the London Borough of Camden deactivated international heads with its newly commissioned public benches. With inclined edges, no crevices or hiding places and impermeable surface, the “Camden Bench” – as it would recover consciousness to be known – was lauded as a great example of public furniture.

It won awards from the Draft Council and Keep Britain Tidy and was also given PAS68 approval from the Stamping-ground Office for its counter terrorism uses. But in among the praise, some began to cudgel ones brains if all the boxes ticked by the Camden Bench actually made for something satisfied.

“Those things are ram-proof, they’re drug-drop-proof, they’re skateboard-proof,” states artist, designer and activist Stuart Semple. “But what they finished up with was a lump of concrete that no one could really sit on.”

Hostile design is still a problem in our public spaces – here’s why
The Camden Bench

“Invisibility is its concentration”

The Camden Bench is an example of what Semple, and others like him, justification hostile design. Put simply, hostile designs are intentionally created to impede behaviours in urban spaces in order to maintain public order.

Other lessons of hostile design include studs or bolts installed on pavements in in advance of buildings (particularly areas under cover), diagonal bars rigid into the corners of walls and benches fitted with metal armrests or caves. In nearly all examples, it’s homeless people who feel the impact of the designs the most.

“What’s scandalous about it is the amount of people who don’t even clock these designs,” holds Semple. “Invisibility is its strength, because once it becomes obvious human being do tend to get angry about it.”

Semple knows this from opening hand experience. In early 2018, he noticed the benches of his home hamlet of Bournemouth had been retrofitted with bars to prevent rough sleepers. Enraged by this, he launched a targeted campaign to get Bournemouth Borough Council to erase them.

Encouraging others to get involved, Semple also created hostiledesigns.org, where fellows of the public could send in pictures of “design crimes” they better b concluded across. “I wanted to place this in the context of design,” says Semple. “For me, benches are make projects and I wanted to raise awareness particularly in the art and design communities that we should be utilizing our talents to make things better.”

Hostile design is still a problem in our public spaces – here’s why
Bench dividers used to bring to a stop people laying down

“Problems that can’t be solved with paraphernalia”

The existence of hostile design is not to say designers themselves are the ones pushing for it – the Aristotelianism entelechy is often far from it. According to Rowland Atkinson, research chair in broad societies at the University of Sheffield, design and designers often get co-opted into declaration ways to “manage out the backend of the welfare system”.

“Urban design can end up doing the job of a street-level policing aura, for example,” says Atkinson. “If councils install a certain type of bench that doesn’t extremity to be maintained or its users checked up on, that space ends up running itself.”

Atkinson bids what is needed and what the reality is are often miles apart. Where there is a unfeigned need to create safe spaces that are sympathetic to the needs of original identity groups, hostile design is employed as a quick and cheap elucidation. This allows, says Atkinson, the inclusive agenda to fall by the wayside.

Semple simulations this, saying: “What ends up happening is that designers and artists get encumbered by problems with society that they can’t possibly solve with a bit of trappings.”

Hostile design is still a problem in our public spaces – here’s why
Stud interventions on steps

“A duty of care to the public”

Empowering connivers not to be part of the problem is something Semple champions. “We need to have the mightiness of conviction to say we aren’t going to design stuff that hurts people,” he answers. “I think we have a duty of care to the public, especially when we’re the a givens putting stuff into the public realm.”

Design Council towns programme advisor Catherine Horwill says ultimately public margins need to work for everybody. In this sense, she feels, any kind of exclusivity is sans at the first hurdle. “Design isn’t just an outcome but an entire process. We sine qua non to look from the very beginning to see if spaces are being designed for all,” she says.

The Design Council has strengthened its position on city design recently, launching an across the board environment CPD course earlier this year. Horwill says the definitely is intended to make people more aware and enthusiastic about comprising design.

Horwill says questioning briefs is a good place to start – praying what exactly is the problem needing to be solved. “It’s a dangerous process to start from the end of expulsion,” she says, adding that any number of groups who rely on spaces to sit or reside – the elderly, people with disabilities, young families, for example – could also be collared up in the process of excluding the homeless.

Taking an empathetic approach from a indefinite number of viewpoints, Horwill says, is the first step. “Nothing is yet perfect, but it’s about balancing all requirements where possible.”

Hostile design is still a problem in our public spaces – here’s why
Benches retrofitted with iron stops in Germany

“There’s definitely a sense this is wrong”

Ultimately, Semple orders, a widespread rethink about the role of public spaces is needed. “We difficulty to start seeing how we can make public spaces areas for people to ethical be, rather than as places to pass through or shop,” he says. “At the minute, anything that gets in the way of that, like someone without a ancestry for example, gets moved on.”

Semple’s fight to remove the metal bars on Bournemouth benches and wider run to expose “design crimes” began around 18 months ago. Since then, a number of nearby authorities and businesses around the world have listened.

In Mumbai, anti-homeless nullifies have been removed from outside a prominent bank erection; in Seattle, anti-homeless bike racks were removed by the Department of Transportation; and crucially for Semple, Bournemouth Borough Assembly have removed the bars on its benches.

“It’s still early days, but I unquestionably think towns and cities are starting to ask the deeper question of how we can make general space more inviting,” says Semple. “There’s definitely a purport that this is wrong, and hopefully we’ll start to see even more purposeful design.”

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