Disciplinary architecture

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Architectures of control have been considered to direct and/or prohibit certain types of behaviours within a given space. The idea of shaping user behavior is widely evident throughout the built environment. Architecture regulates behavior; its constraints are simultaneous although are enforced not through the will of the state, or through the will of a community. Its constraints are enforced through the physical power of a context, or environment.[1] When we discuss disciplinary architecture we can consider two distinctive elements. There are those architectures of control which physically prevent or direct a certain type of behavior and there are those designs that regulate user behavior through the psychological effects of the surrounding built environments.

Physical control[edit]

Architects and designers are in a position where they can cleverly put into practice physical structures to direct or prohibit certain behaviours or activities within a given space. These architectures of control can be as simple as the implementation of fencing, gates and pathways to lead people in certain directions or prevent them from accessing restricted areas. Furthermore, architectures of control can be far more specific in terms of certain designs. For instance, in educational environments, windows are often placed at certain heights to prevent students from becoming distracted by events outside.[2] Although often unnoticed, these physical considerations play a valuable role in maintaining order within the built environment.

Psychological control[edit]

The idea of shaping behaviours through the psychological effects of architecture is a very clever tool used in design. Often this element of control is harder to distinguish and can even be overlooked by the public. The most common example would be the use of particular colours to influence the mood of the user. For instance, pink is known to have a calming effect, and for this reason is often used within prison facilities to control the mood of the inmates. Similarly, stadiums have been known to paint the locker rooms of the opponents in shades of pink to keep players in a more passive and less energetic state.[3] Users are often unaware of the psychological effects of the surrounding architecture, and for this reason, are often very successful at shaping user behaviours.

A history of disciplinary architecture[edit]

The idea that architecture might regulate is nothing new. Designs of urban planners such as Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann, who remodelled Paris for Louis Napoléon (later Napoléon III) after 1848, may include elements of physical crowd control. Many of the narrow streets, which had once made the revolutionaries’ barricades effective, were replaced with broad boulevards and avenues, allowing for a psychological level of control. A mob may feel less powerful if positioned in the middle of a large area, whether this is a park or a thoroughfare.[4] In another example, Robert Moses built highway bridges along roads to the beaches in Long Island so that buses could not pass under the bridges.[5] This assured that only those using cars (mainly white people) would use certain public beaches, and that those without cars (largely African Americans) would be driven to use other beaches. Consequently, social relations were regulated. Each of these considered designs have made way for a future where architects and designers can cleverly and often subtly manipulate user behavior through the use of the surrounding built environments.

Panopticon prison designs[edit]

The Panopticon was a prison that was designed by Jeremy Bentham, a philosopher and social theorists, in the late 18th century. ‘The Panopticon is not a prison. It is a general principle of construction, the polyvalent apparatus of surveillance, the universal optical machine of human groupings’.[6] The idea of this prison is to have control over what is visible and invisible. Structurally, the building is circular. In the centre of the room is a watchtower, which is surrounded by cells that run around the circumference of each level within the prison. From the central point each individual cell can be seen, nothing is hidden. However, from the cells it is impossible to see out at the tower or into any of the surrounding cells. Being able to view inmates from the tower is seen almost as ‘God like’. The observer can watch over the cells without the inmates being able to see him in return. “If I can observe the watcher who spies upon me, I can control my surveillance, I can spy in turn, I can learn the watcher’s ways, his weaknesses, I can study his habits, I can elude him. If the eye is hidden, it looks at me even when it is not actually observing me. By concealing itself in the shadows, the eye can intensify all its powers.” [7] For Bentham, “reality is worth no more than the appearance it produces.”[8] Consequently, one could study the behavioral patterns of the inmates as a consequence of their surroundings. For the fear and unknowing of being watched by the observer, the users of this space behave aptly.

Crime prevention through environmental design[edit]

Crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) is an approach to prevent criminal behavior through the use of environmental design. There are three basic strategies that are considered in CPTED:

Natural access control looks at decreasing the ease of accessibility for criminals. Restricting criminal intrusion is often accomplished by the installation of fences, footpaths, gates and lighting. Natural surveillance aims at keeping potential intruders or criminals under observation. Environments can be created where the public is able to observe their surrounding spaces while involved in their usual behaviors. Maximum visibility should always be considered in the designs. Buildings can be oriented in certain ways so that windows and points of entry point towards populated spaces within the built environment. This allows for maximum opportunities in terms of surveillance. Territorial enforcement looks at clearly outlining private spaces from semi-public and public areas. Strangers and intruders can be easily identified when there is a sense of ownership within a space. Long term use of a space and reinforcing natural surveillance and accesses control strategies create a sense of legitimate ownership within an area. Additionally, the personalization of a space through art, signage and screening clearly informs the public of ownership within an area. It is in implementing these ideas that the behaviours of individuals can be successfully manipulated through the use of architectures of control. Not only is it important to deter criminal activity, it is also just as important for other members of the public to feel safe within the built environment. ‘Manipulating environmental cues to danger, for example painting over graffiti, improving lighting, enhancing potential for active surveillance, and other place- specific strategies offer tangible and possibly powerful means for regulating public fear of crime.” [9]

Examples of disciplinary architecture[edit]

Skateboarding prevention[edit]

Urban locations are constantly at risk of being vandalized or abused. Skateboarders are often found riding along many surfaces of the built environment. Elements not designed for this purpose may be damaged in the process. Although skateboarding is illegal within many vicinities, signs are frequently ignored. Consequently, patrons can often be left feeling irritated and threatened. As a solution, designers have added metal protrusions to benches and other flat surfaces in order to prevent skateboarders from riding across these surfaces.[10] This method of prevention is now commonly seen in many outdoor locations within urban settings.

Anti-homeless benches[edit]

A bench with in-line armrests.

A number of cities have become concerned with the growing rate of homelessness within their communities. These people often inhabit various locations within the built environment, particularly bench seats. In cities such as Tokyo, benches have been designed to prevent users from using these facilities over extended periods of time. These benches have been constructed so that the seat slopes at an angle, which requires the user to support themselves entirely with their feet. Another deterrent design is to include armrests placed down the center of the bench, preventing the user from laying down across the seats.[11]

People of interest[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lessig, Lawrence. June 2000, ‘Architecting for Control’ draft 1.0 pp. 2-4
  2. ^ Lockton, Dan. ‘Architectures of control in the built environment’. Design with Intent. Architectures.danlockton.co.uk. Retrieved on 8.10.2011
  3. ^ Victoria Police. ‘Crime Prevention Though Environmental Design’. Community Safety. Police.vic.gov.au retrieved on 20.10.2011
  4. ^ Lockton, Dan. ‘Architectures of control in the built environment’. Design with Intent. Architectures.danlockton.co.uk. Retrieved on 8.10.2011
  5. ^ Lessig, Lawrence. June 2000, ‘Architecting for Control’ draft 1.0 pp. 2-4.
  6. ^ Miller, Jacques-Alain. Miller, Richard. 1987, ‘Jeremy Bentham’s Panoptic Device, October, vol.41, pp.3-29
  7. ^ Miller, Jacques-Alain. Miller, Richard. 1987, ‘Jeremy Bentham’s Panoptic Device, October, vol.41, pp.3-29
  8. ^ Miller, Jacques-Alain. Miller, Richard. 1987, ‘Jeremy Bentham’s Panoptic Device, October, vol.41, pp.3-29
  9. ^ O’Shea, Linda S. Awwad-Rafferty, Rula. Design and Security in the built environment. Fairchild Books inc. 2009. ISBN 978-1-56367-497-6. Pp 27.
  10. ^ Lockton, Dan. ‘J.G. Ballard and Architectures of Control’. Ballardian. Ballardian.com. retrieved on 15.10.2011
  11. ^ Bell, Kim (2013-12-18). "Metro's bench dividers at bus shelters seen by some as slap at homeless". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved 2014-06-08. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)