15 examples of 'anti-homeless' hostile architecture common to cities

How many of these hostile architecture strategies have you seen around your city? Once you've been made aware of them, you'll never stop seeing them.
Christopher McFadden
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  • Recent years have seen a movement of people documenting and criticizing what they call hostile design, hostile architecture, or defensive design.
  • This term refers to design features implemented into city and town planning explicitly created to deter homeless people from finding somewhere to sleep.
  • But what are some of the most extreme examples?

Cities worldwide are using new architecture to eliminate places where homeless people can gather. Called "defensive design," it's one thing that, once pointed out, you start seeing everywhere. Here are a few of the most common examples of hostile design to look out for in your city.

What is hostile architecture?

Hostile architecture, otherwise known as anti-homeless architecture, is a form of architectural design intended to prevent or impede crime and help maintain order. The built environment is part of the strategy to stop bad people from using public spaces for things they weren't meant to be used for. 

Designs range in scale and type and are generally employed to prevent skateboarding, parkour, littering, loitering, and public urination, among other 'anti-social' behaviors. 

What are some examples of hostile architecture? 

And so, without further ado, here are some examples of hostile architecture you might have seen before when walking around town. This list is far from exhaustive and is in no particular order. 

1. Slanted benches: more than just an uncomfortable seat

15 examples of 'anti-homeless' hostile architecture common to cities
Slanted benches are one of the most common forms of hostlie architecture you'll spot around a city.

You might've noticed slanted benches at train stations or bus stops and been baffled by how uncomfortable they are to sit on. The sad truth is that they're specifically designed this way to make them impossible to sleep on. 

Benches have always been a go-to for homeless people looking to rest. To combat this, cities have made benches as uncomfortable as possible while still serving their essential purpose.

2. Armrests on benches: they're not for your arms

15 examples of 'anti-homeless' hostile architecture common to cities
Source: u/theobanger/Reddit

While on the surface, these armrests seem innocuous; they're again a feature designed to stop people from sleeping on benches. The armrests prevent people from lying across benches, making them impossible to sleep on.

3. Rocky pavements: the reasons behind unusual paving

15 examples of 'anti-homeless' hostile architecture common to cities
Rocky pavements are another common strategy.

If you see a smooth section of pavement abruptly transition into coarse rocks, it's probably because someone is trying to stop people from sleeping or begging in that street area.

You'll likely notice this feature under awnings or other shelters, where people typically try to take refuge.

4. Spiked windowsills: not just for the birds

15 examples of 'anti-homeless' hostile architecture common to cities
Spikes can also be used.

Windows and walls have been spiked in cities for some time now, usually to deter birds from roosting on them. However, many ground-level windowsills are being spiked now, too, to deter people from sitting or sheltering under the awnings of windows.

5. Segmented benches: an unusual design with a purpose

15 examples of 'anti-homeless' hostile architecture common to cities
This is for the same reason as armrests being palced on public benches.

Benches with imprints or concave grooves to designate where people can sit have become popular across cities recently. As with other modifications to benches on this list, the driving force behind this design choice is to make sleeping on benches impossible.

6. Street spikes: a stark message to those sleeping rough

15 examples of 'anti-homeless' hostile architecture common to cities
This is another common example of hostle architecture.

In addition to stones and rocks, certain areas have been installing spikes into their pavements as a deterrent against homeless people looking for a spot to sleep.

These spikes are usually made of concrete or metal and are placed in or near doorways, under bridges, and other sheltered areas. 

7. Awning gaps: not a flaw, but a design choice

15 examples of 'anti-homeless' hostile architecture common to cities
In some cases, the very design of the building may have been modified, or intentionally designed to prevent rough sleepers.

Think that gap in a store's awning is a flaw? You might be wrong. This gap is often a deliberate design choice to withhold shelter from those seeking it. It's subtle but just another example of the crackdown against people sleeping on the streets.

8. Curved and slanted benches: purposely uncomfortable

15 examples of 'anti-homeless' hostile architecture common to cities
Curved benches are not just for aesthetics.

Like the other benches on this list, benches that curve around and have their seats slanted are deliberate attempts to stop homeless people from sleeping rough. Because they prevent people from reclining fully, sleeping or sitting comfortably on them is virtually impossible.

9. Barred corners: shutting out loiterers and others

15 examples of 'anti-homeless' hostile architecture common to cities
Source: Cara Chellow/Twitter

Not even corners are safe from the influence of hostile architecture. You might come across corners barred or fenced off to prevent people from begging, loitering, or sheltering there—a low-tech but very practical option.

10. Street dividers: pushing the homeless off the streets

15 examples of 'anti-homeless' hostile architecture common to cities
Planters are another common strategy.

Foliage is always a welcome sight in the city, but these planters aren't always what they appear to be. What looks like a refreshing flash of green in an otherwise concrete jungle can often be an attempt to push homeless people away from the sheltered side of the street.

By directing traffic towards sheltered areas with the aid of dividers, the homeless are left without a clear patch of ground to sleep on.

11. Raised grate covers: not just an abstract design

15 examples of 'anti-homeless' hostile architecture common to cities
Source: Mark Iantorno/Twitter

This might look like an abstract sculpture, but it's been constructed to stop people from sleeping on the grate. Often during colder weather, homeless people seek out vents and grates to sleep on because of the warmth they release. 

Pacing structures like these prevent homeless people from sleeping on grates and staying warm during the winter.

12. Tiered seating: just try sleeping on these

15 examples of 'anti-homeless' hostile architecture common to cities
This is another common form of hostile architecture.

Like benches, tiered public seating like this is explicitly designed to deter those looking for somewhere to sleep.

Thanks to the tiered structure, stretching out and getting comfortable enough to rest is impossible.

13. Fenced grates: withholding heat

15 examples of 'anti-homeless' hostile architecture common to cities
Vents and grates are often sources of heat for rough sleepers.

Like the structure seen earlier on this list, fenced grates are also an attempt to stop homeless people from huddling around them for warmth in cold weather. Grates are popular in the winter, as they're some of the few areas of heat homeless people can find when the temperature drops.

14. Retractable spikes: hidden in plain sight

15 examples of 'anti-homeless' hostile architecture common to cities
These spikes can be retracted during the day.

Perhaps you've seen metal discs level with the pavement outside certain establishments. Chances are their retractable spikes, which can be pushed up at night to prevent people from sleeping outside the premises. 

This allows establishments to appear open and welcoming during the day without making shoppers uncomfortable with the sight of defensive design.

15. Boulders under bridges: making rough sleeping rougher

15 examples of 'anti-homeless' hostile architecture common to cities
Bridges are a common form of refuge for the homeless.

Bridges provide large amounts of shelter and thus are popular spots for people who find themselves sleeping rough. Many cities will place large stones or boulders covering the pavement to combat the number of people sleeping under bridges. This leaves only the roads clear, with no safe area for homeless people to sleep in.

The problem with hostile architecture is that it doesn't aim to address the homelessness crisis. All it achieves is making life harder for those already struggling. Forcing people to find other places to sleep won't solve the issue of homelessness.

And that is your lot for today.

Hostile architecture is a thought-provoking and controversial topic in urban design. Although maintaining order and cleanliness in public spaces is often justified, it is crucial to recognize that its underlying intention is to exclude and displace the homeless population.

Whether or not you agree or disagree with their installation is a matter of opinion, but rest assured, they are not going away anytime soon. This is despite various campaigns to stop them. Now that you know these structures, why not see how many of them you recognize in your city? 

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