Camden bench

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A Camden bench
Camden benches outside Freemasons' Hall in Great Queen Street, London

The Camden bench is a type of concrete street furniture. It was commissioned by the Camden London Borough Council and installed in Camden, London, in 2012. It is designed specifically to influence the behaviour of the public by restricting undesirable behaviour and instead be usable only as a bench, a principle known as hostile architecture. 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"[1] and a "masterpiece of unpleasant design".[2] 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.[3]

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. Close 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."[4] "Feature sites" for introduction of the bench were on Great Queen Street and High Holborn.[5][6]

Produced by UK company Factory Furniture, the bench is designed to deter use for sleeping, littering, skateboarding, drug dealing, graffiti and theft.[5] 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).[7] 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.[citation needed]

A Camden bench has been used as part of an installation artwork by Roger Hiorns.[4]

Awards[edit]

The design has achieved several awards:[citation needed]

It has also been accredited as:

  • Home Office "PAS68 approved" (a classification for vehicle security barriers) for counter-terrorism use.

Criticism[edit]

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.[8] 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.[1] The style of the bench can be related to 'Secret city design tricks manipulate your behaviour',[9] 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.[10]

Located just one block away from a homeless hostel, it has been seen as a repellent towards anyone sleeping on it due to its unwelcoming design. Although it was introduced by Factory Furniture as an attempt to reduce anti-social behaviour and maintain cleaner streets, the idea of reducing areas for homeless to sleep has not been mentioned a great deal.[11]

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.[12] 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.[13]

Popular criticism focused on subverting restrictions imposed by the bench, such as by attempting to skateboard on it.[14]

Specifications[edit]

The technical specifications are:[15]

  • Length, 270 cm (110 in)
  • Width, 55 cm (22 in)
  • Height, 65 cm (26 in)
  • Weight, approx. 1765 kg
  • Materials, exposed aggregate concrete with a galvanised steel frame

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Swain, Frank (5 December 2013). "Designing the Perfect Anti-Object". Medium.com. Retrieved 29 August 2014.
  2. ^ Swain, Frank (2 December 2013). "Secret city design tricks manipulate your behaviour". BBC – Future. Retrieved 29 August 2014.
  3. ^ Petty, James (2016). "The London spikes controversy: Homelessness, urban securitisation and the question of 'hostile architecture'". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. ^ a b "Interview with Factory Furniture Design Team". Unpleasant Design. Retrieved 29 August 2014.
  5. ^ a b "Camden Bench". Factory Furniture. Archived from the original on 29 January 2017. Retrieved 2 December 2016.
  6. ^ Google street view images of the bench installation "feature sites" on Great Queen Street and High Holborn, June 2012.
  7. ^ "The Camden Bench". Ian Visits. 2 December 2016.
  8. ^ Quinn, Ben (13 June 2014). "Anti-homeless spikes are part of a wider phenomenon of 'hostile architecture'". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 August 2014.
  9. ^ Swain, Frank. "Secret city design tricks manipulate your behaviour". www.bbc.com.
  10. ^ "The Camden Bench". www.ianvisits.co.uk.
  11. ^ Gamman, Lorraine; Willcocks, Marcus (April 2011). "The Anti-bag Theft and ASB-resistant "Camden Bench"". Design Against Crime. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  12. ^ "Anti-homeless spikes are part of a wider phenomenon of 'hostile architecture'". the Guardian. 13 June 2014.
  13. ^ "Anti-homeless spikes are part of a wider phenomenon of 'hostile architecture'". the Guardian. 13 June 2014.
  14. ^ Perraudin, Frances; Quinn, Ben (13 June 2014). "Can you skate on a Camden bench? – video". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 August 2014.
  15. ^ "CAMDEN bench technical sheet" (PDF). Factory Furniture. 2012. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-09-03. Retrieved 29 August 2014.