Defensive architecture, hostile design

Bleacher seating along the river front is covered with different coloured bean bags.Design can have a dark side, often as a result of unintended consequences. This can happen when designers have just one group of people in mind, or when good design ideas are changed at the last moment. The Fifth Estate article about the Howard Smith Wharves in Brisbane illustrates how good design can morph into bad design.

The wharf development was supposed to be a vibrant playground for ‘lovers of the good life’. The development included restaurants and an active transport corridor along the river. The path required separation with line markings, but all this changed just before opening.

A gravel path was installed with the idea that this would be a “go slow” zone. Of course the community objected. A key city thoroughfare was disrupted and the gravel reduced accessibility. And new safety hazards arose because of no line markings. Who then were the ‘lovers of the good life’? Image above from Facebook. 

The title of the article is, Urban design has a dark side to it’s creativity – two projects in Brisbane show how. Somehow, the Planning Institute of Australia thought this was worthy of an urban design award. 

Defensive architecture – hostile design

A concrete bench with spike barriers to prevent people from sleeping and even sitting.Design is powerful. It can include or exclude. While many designers are doing their best to be inclusive, others are deliberately creating hostile designs. Why do this? It’s under the heading of “defensive architecture” – ways to prevent crime. But should this be solved with design – it’s the opposite of universal design.

An article from UNSW begins, “Spike, bars and barricades are not typically things you would associate with a park. But it turns out they are part of a growing suite of hostile design interventions in public spaces.”

Creating urban discomfort

Spikes are embedded in flat surfaces underneath bridges to deter rough sleepers. Seats and flat surfaces made too uncomfortable to sit on for any length of time. Flat surfaces act as seating for those tired legs. Meanwhile, it goes against all the principles of universal design and encouraging people to get out and about.

The article is titled, Defensive architecture: design at its most hostile. It has examples and pictures and discusses the issues of designing to exclude. 

There is a similar article in The Guardian, Anti-homeless spikes: ‘Sleeping rough opened my eyes to the city’s barbed cruelty

Image courtesy UNSW newsroom.

What good is design if not for everyone?

Johan Carey in jeans and black polo shirt is on the stage at a Ted Talk on what good is design if it's not for everyone.“I believe design functions like the soundtrack that we are not fully aware we are playing. It sends subconscious messages about how to feel and what to expect” says John Carey in his Ted Talk. So what good is design if it’s not for everyone?

John Carey calls fellow architects to create places and spaces for people other than themselves – who, for the most part are white males. “Dignity is to design is what justice is to law and health is to medicine”. “The design reflects back to you your value”. “If good design is only for a privileged few, what good is it?” “Good design shapes our idea of who we are in the world and what we deserve.”

Unlike law and medicine, architecture has failed to attract and sustain women and people of colour. This is a passionate talk that does not mention accessibility specifically, but is a call to consider everyone in designs. Check it out.

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