The slow but steady transformation of public spaces into spike-adorned seats and uncomfortable leaning benches has sparked a campaign to name and shame “designs against humanity”.
UK-based artist Stuart Semple (known for his creation of the world’s “pinkest pink” and the resulting feud with Anish Kapoor) felt compelled to raise awareness about increasingly hostile public spaces after his local council placed anti-homeless bars across benches in Bournemouth.
While the bars aren’t as visibly threatening as the “defensive spikes” retrofitted in London in 2014, they are still a painful deterrent to anyone hoping to take a load off.
Semple was quick to voice his outrage via Facebook and it wasn’t long before the post went viral, picking up more than 1 million views on the first day.
Inspired by the overwhelming response, Semple immediately began putting together HostileDesign.org.
Launched this week, the website encourages people around the world to call out these “design crimes” in an effort to dissolve prejudice and create inclusive public spaces.
The artist is also using Instagram to get the word out, creating the #hostiledesign hashtag so users can quickly and easily share examples of areas that “exclude, harm or otherwise hinder the freedom of a human being”.
Semple isn’t the first to call attention to this alarming trend. In 2016, Cara Chellew created #defensiveTO, a website documenting hostile architecture in the Greater Toronto Area and beyond.
Chellew’s website explains that these defensive elements target the city’s most vulnerable, including the homeless, substance users, people with mental health issues and youth. Other vulnerable people like seniors and disabled people also “suffer disproportionately if spaces are designed defensively”.
To ensure that he isn’t just preaching to the choir, Semple has created Design Crime stickers to help educate people about the issue, and also to put pressure on city planners and local councils that are facilitating the biased practice.
Semple is no stranger to urban design and its capability for positive impact. For the past two years, he has been helping the city of Denver convert its public areas into friendlier, more welcoming spaces.
The Happy City project will feature a series of installations that aim to “incite widespread happiness” in the city through art, interaction and connection.
Lead image: Stuart Semple.