The Problem with Hostile Architecture

The Problem with Hostile Architecture

by Alex Correa

New York is not exactly a small state. New York City alone is home to more than 8.3 million people. During 2021, New York City experienced the highest rate of homelessness seen since the 1930s, during the Great Depression. Tens of thousands of people spent the colder months of the year sleeping on the streets of New York City. The homeless population of this city is disproportionately proven to be LGBTQ+ youth, coming in at about 35-45%. Young people being disowned and abandoned spend cold nights on the streets, not knowing what their next meal will be. By using hostile design techniques, we are making life significantly harder for these children, and getting rid of their safe places to sleep. 

In order to understand why hostile architecture is wrong, we have to understand what it is. The term “hostile architecture” refers to city planners and architects creating a design with the intent of preventing homeless people from “setting up camp” in public spaces. Many architects will deny doing so, but continue to design seating areas that keep people from staying in that space for long periods of time without consequence. Some examples of this would be benches with middle dividers, slanted seats, and separated seats. There are also frequent cases of hostile architecture under bridges across the world, where spikes are placed in order to prevent people from sleeping under the bridges during stormy weather. 

As of 2007, New York City has prohibited “devices that prohibit seating” in public spaces, but architects continue to find ways around this. Things like inconveniently placed armrests and spikes on handrails are disguised as artistic design choices and are still permitted under most circumstances. While complaints are occasionally made, the city protects these designs and pushes the tired voices of homeless youth to the side.  In privately owned spaces, the hostile designs are far, far worse. Spikes are placed on windowsills; bars, railings, and other obstructions take away the only safe spaces left to lay comfortably. The message conveyed by these so-called ‘defense mechanisms’ is “Don’t make yourself at home.”

At this point in time, there is not a lot that the average person can do to stop this issue from occurring. While complaining about instances of hostile architecture is an important step to take, we must first become more cognizant of the hostile architecture around us. By looking for the hostile architecture around us and spreading awareness about hostile architecture, we are inviting others to join the battle against it. Push others around you to take action against hostile architecture, and sign petitions to have anti-homeless designs removed from our community.