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Breaking Down Hostile Architecture; Why It Matters

Hostile architecture may be a term many are unfamiliar with. In a standard definition, hostile architecture refers to a building design simply purposed to control unwanted behavior “not intended by the owner.” Designs may include anti-glare lighting, windows placed strategically to provide surveillance and even spikes to prevent people from sleeping.

On a visit to Florence last year, I noticed large spikes on the windowsills unlike anything I had smaller spikes intended for birds that I had seen before. These spikes seemed to be placed anywhere a person may be able to sit. Coincidentally, I saw very few homeless people in the city.

Spikes along window ledges at a Florence train station. Photo: CeCe Shilling

I later learned the purpose of these spikes and was shocked at the inhumane technique that cities believe are solutions to a problem such as homelessness and promote public safety. Below are two common ways to identify hostile design in your city.


Spikes are among the most common hostile architecture techniques, also known as “anti-homeless spikes.” Spikes are commonly found on window ledges, step corners and occasionally vacant corners and other unoccupied spaces that one might find convenient to rest on.

Spiked metal atop a steel grate. Photo: Mark Iantorno

Segmented Benches

While benches with arm rests may seem common, the arm rests in many cases have been placed deliberately to prevent anyone from lying down. Benches may have additional bars added down the middle or sides to create seats along the chair while actually blockading the chance of anyone stretching across it.

“I learned to love London Underground’s Circle line back then. But engineering work put a stop to that,” said temporarily homeless man Alex Andreou. “An old, wooden bench, made concave and smooth by thousands of buttocks, underneath a sycamore with foliage so thick that only the most persistent rain could penetrate it. Sheltered and warm, perched as it was against a wall behind which a generator of some sort radiated heat, this was prime property. Then, one morning, it was gone. In its place stood a convex metal perch, with three solid armrests. I felt such loss that day.”

The stickers along the chair read “DESIGN CRIME. This item is a design against humanity. It has been added to the international database of hostile design. Photo: Stuart Semple/Hostile Design

What many people may think are odd architectural choices or artsy, edgy designs are actually specifically placed to drive the homeless population into the shadows and out of the public eye. Instead of using the funds that could be used to feed, clothe or shelter homeless people, cities are tackling homelessness without compassion, but in the same manner as cities treat birds; as vermin for whom specific techniques are taken to prevent them from being around the other people.

Homeless people are still human beings. The blatant disregard for these people in need is alarming and needs to be addressed. Keep an eye out for hostile design. Research your city’s policy on defensive architecture. Contact your representatives, city planners and other figures you know have a hand in the decision making in your town. You can make a difference.

Learn more about hostile architecture at

Photo: Alvin Decena/Pexels

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