Is this method of preventing certain public activities effective and necessary or just unwelcoming and immoral? 

Based on whom you and where you stand within a city’s social order, causing you discomfort may be exactly what it’s designed to do. The iron and steel arm rests that divide up park benches may seem pretty innocuous if you’re just passing by or taking a seat to sip your coffee, but the medieval looking iron rails, spikes, and jagged stonework that line sidewalks, landings, and building alcoves may give make you pause. Is this just an urban architecture trend? Yes, but it has little to do with style and a lot more with social control.

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An Easy Means Of Control Or Socially Toxic?
Architects are designing it, businesses and property owners are investing in it, but city officials and passersby aren’t necessary fans. It’s called defensive architecture and it’s designed to deter loitering, skating, sitting, sleeping, and other unwanted activities near residential, business, and public spaces. While it’s been gradually integrated into cities throughout the world and it provides manufacturers and architects with interesting design exercises, many argue that the additions range from ugly and ineffective to downright heartless and socially toxic to urban environments.

Why So Defensive?
Defensive architecture includes the previously mentioned bench rails and metal and stone additions, but it can also refer to the way a bench or railing is shaped. A concrete structure can be slopped in a particular way so that it allows for temporary sitting but it doesn’t make for a useful skateboarding aide or place for a homeless person to sleep. Defensive architecture also includes digital and electronic components, like high frequency buzzers designed to annoy loitering teens and recycling deposit limits at grocery stores, which are meant to deter high volume can collectors and pickers.

defensive architecture

Easy To Overlook Unless You’re The Problem
A lot of these architectural additions might go unnoticed or be considered little more than an eyesore unless you’re one of the individuals these elements are meant to deter. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a solution. As critics have pointed out, social problems and certain activities cannot simply be “designed out” of a city. This still hasn’t stopped business and property owners from investing in this low maintenance approach to controlling a space.


Prevalent Yet Unpopular
For most everyone else, the idea and resulting structures aren’t quite so popular. From ordinary citizens to mayors in different cities, increasing defensive architecture elements have been denounced. Some say it’s a concrete demonstration of growing social inequality and class isolation. So should architects and designers be working on better ways to use structure in an inclusive way, and as a means to defend people from real, genuine threats—instead of shooing away the evidence of systemic social ills?

What are your thoughts on defensive architecture? Do you think you’ll notice it more now that you know what to look for? Share your input in the comments.

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