Londoners Are Fighting Back Against “Hostile Architecture”

From spikes in the ground to benches designed to be uncomfortable, hostile architecture is pushing already fringe groups further away from the public eye

No skateboarding
Nathan Griffith/Corbis

Recently, a bunch of skateboarders in London set out to demonstrate that an anti-skateboarding bench in London, could in fact, be skated on. 

The benches are sloping hulks of concrete that were designed to resist graffiti, skateboarders and anyone with the temerity to try and lie down on them. They are, the Guardian explains, part of an architectural trend called "hostile" by some and "defensive" by others. The basic idea is to make areas of a city as unappealing as possible to undesirable groups like teenagers, the homeless and the much-maligned skateboarders.

This use of architecture is subtle in a vicious way, like a snub from a character in an Austen novel. They don’t overtly say: “We don’t like you. Leave.” Instead, they simply raise an eyebrow, turn down the corners of their lips and install some spikes in the concrete, making it abundantly clear that “your kind would surely be more comfortable elsewhere, wouldn’t you, dear?” It's been increasing for about two decades. The Guardian

The architectural historian Iain Borden says the emergence of hostile architecture has its roots in 1990s urban design and public-space management. The emergence, he said, "suggested we are only republic citizens to the degree that we are either working or consuming goods directly.

"So it's OK, for example, to sit around as long as you are in a cafe or in a designated place where certain restful activities such as drinking a frappucino should take place but not activities like busking, protesting or skateboarding. It's what some call the 'mallification' of public space, where everything becomes like a shopping mall."

But some people, like the skateboarders who saw the new benches as a challenge, not a deterrent, are now fighting back. Spikes outside a supermarket in London were removed after activists poured concrete on them. In London last week, Mayor Boris Johnson called anti-homeless spikes installed outside private buildings "ugly, self-defeating and stupid." More than 130,000 people signed a petition asking for the spikes to be removed; soon, the petition's organizer wrote "the spikes in Southwark were gone!"

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