Hostile design: what is it for?

It’s one thing to create inaccessible built environments through thoughtlessness. It is another to do it intentionally. Hostile design has emerged as an architectural response to homelessness, specifically rough sleepers. Rough sleepers need a flat surface on which to lie down, but flat surfaces are also a place of rest for other citizens.

A solid rectangle of concrete that has an undulating surface which makes it impossible to lie on and uncomfortable to sit or perch. This is hostile design.Put simply, hostile designs are intentionally created to restrict behaviours in urban spaces in order to maintain public order.

Examples of this type of design are highlighted in a paper titled, Designing Out: A Framework for Studying Hostile Design. Mostly these are benches with raised or sloping sections. However, low height walls are also used as temporary resting places by pedestrians.

A purple coloured wall surrounds a street planting. The wall is at sitting height but it has anti-seating bars across it. A man is crouching down in front of the wall.
Photo by Jonathan Pacheco Bell

The author considers hostile design a reflection of the prevailing social values which ends up defining who has access to public space and who doesn’t. Finding ways to hide homelessness is not the answer to the problem. Everyone has an equal right to use public space.

The article discusses the issues from a rights perspective – the right to the city. The removal of rough sleepers from the public domain appeases the discomfort of people who have a home to go to. But it does not deal with the issue of homelessness. Indeed, architecture should be looking at ways to minimise homelessness, not hiding it with uninviting design.

The title of the article is, Designing Out: A Framework for Studying Hostile Design

Hostile design doesn’t solve social problems

If nothing else, hostile design shows the power of design – it makes it obvious. But does it? According to Semple, most people don’t notice it, but when they do, they get angry about it. And urban design should not be street police – the problems only move elsewhere. Designers cannot solve societal problems with street furniture. 

Design Week’s article Hostile design is still a problem in our pubic spaces, has an everyday look at the issues. 

The City as Home

The City as Home is a landscape-led response by Logan Bunn to the treatment of rough sleepers. His thesis challenges this form of social control as it instils injustice and inequality within the urban fabric. 

The overarching methodology of this thesis is research through inclusive design, supported by participatory research.

“This thesis highlights the need to humanise rough sleepers and integrate their needs into the design of public space, whilst also demonstrating the positive impact of inclusive and empathetic design practices on the broader community. It underscores the potential of landscape architectural practice to address social justice issues and create more inclusive public spaces through proactive collaboration and activism.”

Accessibility Toolbar