Hostile architecture

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Bolts installed on the front steps of a building in France, to discourage sitting and sleeping

Hostile architecture is an intentional design strategy that uses elements of the built environment to guide or restrict behaviour in urban space as a form of crime prevention or order maintenance. It often targets people who use or rely on public space more than others, like people who are homeless and youth, by restricting the behaviours they engage in.[1] Also known as defensive architecture, hostile design, unpleasant design, exclusionary design, or defensive urban design, hostile architecture is most typically associated with "anti-homeless spikes" — studs embedded in flat surfaces to make sleeping rough, uncomfortable, and impractical.[2][3] Other measures include sloped window sills to stop people sitting, benches with armrests positioned to stop people lying on them, and water sprinklers that "intermittently come on but aren't really watering anything."[4][5] Hostile architecture also seeks to deter skateboarding, littering, loitering, and public urination. Critics argue that such measures reinforce social divisions and create problems for all members of the public, especially seniors, people with disabilities, and children.[6]


A 19th century flint cone, built into the corner of a medieval church in Norwich, England, to discourage men from urinating there

Although the term "hostile architecture" is recent, the use of civil engineering to achieve social engineering is not: antecedents include 19th century "urine deflectors".[7][8] Its modern form is derived from the design philosophy Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED), which aims to prevent crime or protect property through three strategies: natural surveillance, natural access control, and territorial enforcement.[9]

Critics of hostile architecture argue that it makes contrarianism impossible, that it replaces public spaces with commercial or "pseudo-public" spaces and uses architecture "to enforce social divisions".[10][11] Sociologist Robert Park wrote, "In making the city we make ourselves, one might wonder what collective self-conception has produced a city covered in metal spikes, illuminated by blue lights, buzzing with high-frequencies — paranoid, anxious and hostile, by design."[12] Urban designer Malcolm MacKay says: “Historically, defensive architecture was used to deal with the enemy without” and now he says that anxiety has been turned inwards.[13]


The "Camden bench", used in London, is designed to discourage sleeping, littering, skateboarding, drug dealing, graffiti and theft

Examples of hostile architecture include:

  • The Seattle Department of Transportation installed bicycle racks to prevent the homeless from camping.[14]
  • A gas station in New Kensington, Pennsylvania installed blue lighting in their bathrooms that make it hard for drug users to find their veins.[15][16]
  • Anti-homeless spikes on London's Curtain Road to prevent homeless people from sleeping there.[17]

Consistent with the widespread implementation of defensible space guidelines in the 1970s, most implementations of CPTED as of 2004 are based solely upon the theory that the proper design and effective use of the built environment can reduce crime, reduce the fear of crime, and improve the quality of life. Built environment implementations of CPTED seek to dissuade offenders from committing crimes by manipulating the built environment in which those crimes proceed from or occur. The six main concepts according to Moffat are territoriality, surveillance, access control, image/maintenance, activity support and target hardening. Applying all of these strategies is key when trying to prevent crime in any neighborhood, crime ridden or not.[18]

Creative responses[edit]

In 2003 Stéphane Argillet and Gilles Paté filmed Rest of the Fakir showing themselves attempting rest at examples of hostile design throughout Paris.[19]

In 2005 American artist Sarah Ross documented examples of hostile design throughout Los Angeles in her series Tempting Resistance. Her 2006 followup Archisuits created clothing designed to fit in the negative space of hostile design to allow for sleeping.[20]

In 2018 British artist Stuart Semple created a social media public awareness campaign encouraging the public to place identifying stickers on instances of hostile design in their environment.[21][22][23]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Chellew, Cara (2019). "Defending Suburbia: Exploring the use of defensive urban design outside of the city centre". Canadian Journal of Urban Research. 28: 19–33.
  2. ^ Omidi, Maryam (12 June 2014). "Anti-homeless spikes are just the latest in 'defensive urban architecture'". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 February 2015.
  3. ^ Andreou, Alex (18 February 2015). "Anti-homeless spikes: 'Sleeping rough opened my eyes to the city's barbed cruelty'". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 February 2015.
  4. ^ Quinn, Ben (13 June 2014). "Anti-homeless spikes are part of a wider phenomenon of 'hostile architecture'". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 February 2015.
  5. ^ Mills, Chris (21 February 2015). "How 'Defensive Architecture' Is Ruining Our Cities". Retrieved 23 February 2015.
  6. ^ Chellew, Cara (January 21, 2018). "#defensiveTO". #defensiveTO.
  7. ^ Swain, Frank (2 December 2013). "Secret city design tricks manipulate your behaviour". BBC.
  8. ^ Lee, Jackson (23 July 2013). "Urine Deflectors in Fleet Street". The Cat's Meat Shop. Retrieved 23 February 2014.
  9. ^ Chellew, Cara (2016). "Design Paranoia". Ontario Planning Journal. 31 – via ResearchGate.
  10. ^ Swain, Frank (5 December 2013). "Designing the Perfect Anti-Object". Medium. Retrieved 23 February 2015.
  11. ^ Shea, Michael (5 August 2014). "On the frontline: The architectural policing of social boundaries". Discover Society. Retrieved 23 February 2015.
  12. ^ Living, Mira Adler-Gillies for Blueprint for (2018-03-02). "How 'hostile design' is quietly hurting our cities". ABC News. Retrieved 2019-03-11.
  13. ^ "What is hostile architecture?". Retrieved 2019-03-11.
  14. ^ Groover, Heidi (19 December 2017). "Seattle Uses Bike Racks to Discourage Homeless Camping". The Stranger. Retrieved 17 December 2017.
  15. ^ Watts, Amanda (December 7, 2017). "Gas station installs blue lights to combat drug use". CNN. Retrieved 6 March 2018.
  16. ^ Crabtree, A.; Mercer, G.; Horan, R.; Grant, S.; Tan, T.; Buxton, J. A. (2013), "A qualitative study of the perceived effects of blue lights in washrooms on people who use injection drugs", Harm Reduction Journal, 10 (22): 22, doi:10.1186/1477-7517-10-22, PMC 3853159, PMID 24099145
  17. ^ Borromeo, Leah (2015-07-23). "These anti-homeless spikes are brutal. We need to get rid of them | Leah Borromeo". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-03-11.
  18. ^ Wilson, Paul (1989). Designing Out Crime. Australian Institute of Criminology. p. 23.
  19. ^ pategilles (2009-12-20), the fakir's rest, retrieved 2018-11-20
  20. ^ "/\SARAH ROSS/\". Retrieved 2018-11-20.
  21. ^ "Hostile Architecture: 'Design Crimes' Campaign Gets Bars Removed from Benches – 99% Invisible". 99% Invisible. Retrieved 2018-02-15.
  22. ^ "Stuart Semple launches campaign to eradicate 'hostile design' around the world". Retrieved 2018-02-15.
  23. ^ "Artist Launches Campaign to Call Out Hostile Urban Design". Hyperallergic. 2018-02-01. Retrieved 2018-02-15.

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