It is designed specifically to influence the behaviour of the public by restricting certain uses and behaviours and instead to be usable only as a bench, a principle known as hostile architecture. The bench has been called "the pinnacle of hostile architecture".
Produced by UK company Factory Furniture, the bench is designed to deter use for sleeping, littering, skateboarding, drug dealing, graffiti and theft. It attempts to achieve this primarily through angular surfaces (deterring sleepers and skateboarders), an absence of crevices or hiding places, and non-permeable materials (via a waterproof anti-paint coating).[better source needed] It is not secured to the ground and can be moved by a crane attaching to built-in anchor points. Due to its weight, it is also designed to function as a roadblock.
Municipalities including Camden Town were removing benches from public spaces because they were seen as enabling behaviour considered anti-social, including skateboarding, sleeping, loitering, and criminal behaviour such as drug dealing. Camden London Borough Council commissioned the design of a bench that would discourage such behaviours, and the first Camden benches were installed in 2012.
According to Factory Furniture founder Dean Harvey, the primary purpose of the bench is to influence behaviour by "minimis[ing] the amount of time people spend in an area. With a perched or sloped surface, people can't loiter for too long." One of Factory Furniture's precursor products, the Serpentine Bench, was marketed in the 1990s as being uncomfortable to sleep on.
The designers contend that "Homelessness should never be tolerated in any society and if we start designing in to accommodate homeless then we have totally failed as a society. Proximity to homelessness unfortunately makes us uncomfortable so perhaps it is good that we feel that and recognise homelessness as a problem rather than design to accommodate it."[better source needed]
The Camden bench received criticism as being a prime example of a wider trend of urban design that is anti-homeless, known as hostile architecture. Critics claim it is emblematic of a society where freedom in public space has been curtailed and deviance from accepted forms of behaviour has been made impossible. The style of the bench can be related to 'Secret city design tricks to manipulate your behaviour', which relates to the idea that things may be designed to encourage a type of behaviour without it being either obvious or ugly. Another common design of this is modest 'pigs ears', which are placed on walls and benches.[better source needed]
Because the design is "defined far more by what it is not than what it is", the bench has been called the "perfect anti-object", a "masterpiece of unpleasant design", and "the pinnacle of hostile architecture". Other recent names have included 'defensive' or 'disciplinary' architecture. These terms describe many sculptures which are designed and attached or installed in public spaces, in an attempt to render them unusable in certain ways by certain people or groups.
As a prime example of urban design and hostile architecture, the co-director of the Centre for Urban Research at the University of York argues that the idea of the implication of spikes and other related architecture are a part of a broader pattern of hostility and indifference based towards social difference and poverty produced within cities. He views these implications as an assault on the poor, and an attempt to displace their distress which the general public seem to agree with. The argument begins by summarising how different processes overlap and come together, such as economic processes which result in creating people to become vulnerable.
In addition to Camden the bench has been installed at the 16th and Mission BART plaza in California. A Camden bench has been used as part of an installation artwork by Roger Hiorns.[better source needed] "Feature sites" for introduction of the bench were on Great Queen Street and High Holborn.
- Keep Britain Tidy "Best practice street cleansing" (2010)
- Design Council "Best practice for reducing crime" (2012)
It has also been accredited as:
- Home Office "PAS68 approved" (a classification for vehicle security barriers) for counter-terrorism use.
The technical specifications are:
- Length, 270 cm (110 in)
- Width, 55 cm (22 in)
- Height, 65 cm (26 in)
- Weight, approx. 1,765 kg
- Materials, exposed aggregate concrete with a galvanised steel frame
- Coggins, Tom (17 June 2016). "Robert Moses, Pig-Ears and the Camden Bench: How Architectural Hostility Became Transparent". Failed Architecture. Retrieved 30 June 2022.
- "Camden Bench". Factory Furniture. Archived from the original on 29 January 2017. Retrieved 2 December 2016.
- "The Camden Bench". Ian Visits. 26 November 2016. Retrieved 29 June 2022.
- Lo, Andrea (21 December 2017). "The debate: Is hostile architecture designing people -- and nature -- out of cities?". CNN. Retrieved 30 June 2022.
- "Interview with Factory Furniture Design Team". Unpleasant Design. Retrieved 29 June 2022.
- Quinn, Ben (13 June 2014). "Anti-homeless spikes are part of a wider phenomenon of 'hostile architecture'". The Guardian.
- Swain, Frank (5 December 2013). "Designing the Perfect Anti-Object". Medium.com. Retrieved 29 August 2014.
- Swain, Frank (1 December 2013). "Secret city design tricks manipulate your behaviour". BBC. Retrieved 29 June 2022.
- McDonald, Coby (28 July 2016). "When Design Is Hostile On Purpose". Popular Science. Retrieved 29 June 2022.
- Petty, James (1 March 2016). "The London Spikes Controversy: Homelessness, Urban Securitisation and the Question of 'Hostile Architecture'". International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy. 5 (1): 67–81. doi:10.5204/ijcjsd.v5i1.286. ISSN 2202-8005.
- Mark, Julian (19 September 2019). "'Unpleasant' or 'interesting'? Two-ton, $5,000 bench arrives at 16th and Mission". Mission Local. Retrieved 30 June 2022.
- Google street view images of the bench installation "feature sites" on Great Queen Street and High Holborn, June 2012.
- "The Camden Bench is more than meets the eye". Camden Town London. 21 February 2018. Retrieved 30 June 2022.
- Long, Molly (16 October 2019). "Hostile design is still a problem in our public spaces - here's why". Design Week. Retrieved 30 June 2022.
- "CAMDEN bench technical sheet" (PDF). Factory Furniture. 2012. Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 September 2014. Retrieved 29 August 2014.