Why is this interesting? - The Hostile Architecture Edition

On cities, design, and hostile spaces

Noah here. You know how benches in parks and airports always have dividers to ensure people can’t lay down comfortably? Or ledges have little spikes to keep people from sitting on them? Maybe you’ve even heard about the park that employs sonic warfare to prevent people from being there after hours? Well, turns out this design pattern is called “hostile architecture” and the goal is to ensure that regular people don’t use spaces in ways that weren’t intended. Here’s how Vice describes it:

At its core, hostile or "defensive" architecture amounts to a forever campaign waged, consciously or otherwise, by designers, landlords, and developers to force people to use property in exactly one way. Sometimes, the end result isn't exactly a tragedy; skaters might have to go somewhere else, for instance. But in its most malignant form, hostile architecture can deter homeless folks from resting. In those cases, public or quasi-public spaces of cities—often defined by unequal access to transit, groceries, and other essentials—become a visceral extension of society's collective disregard for their fate.

Why is this interesting?

There are fewer and fewer spaces that you can linger in for free. As I’ve mentioned in the past, the library is actually one of the few indoor locations that anyone can spend time in (with power and wifi) without having to order at least a latte every few hours. POPS (Privately Owned Public Spaces), “which are outdoor and indoor spaces provided for public enjoyment by private owners in exchange for bonus floor area or waivers”, were supposed to help deal with some of this issue by forcing private landowners to maintain public spaces. But in completely unshocking fashion, the landowners haven’t held up their end of the bargain. A 2017 NYC study found more than half of the spaces didn’t meet the city’s terms. Some had signs of construction, others were even more hostile:

Another space singled out by the Comptroller's Office is the lobby at 101 Barclay Street, owned by Bank New York Mellon. According to auditors, "the POPS is entirely closed to the public, and auditors who attempted to inspect the site were stopped, prevented from taking photographs, and escorted to the security office where they were questioned. Building security informed auditors that this lobby had been closed to the public for at least 15 years."

While this is merely an annoyance for many of us who just want a quick phone charge, it’s much more problematic to be blocking so much public space from those who really need it. From Gothamist:

As the city deals with a housing crisis and an unprecedented rise in homelessness, the public environment has become increasingly unwelcome to places where the homeless have traditionally found shelter: spikes along window ledges, staircases, alcoves and fire hydrants. In 2014, the Strand was accused of using its sprinkler system to drive away homeless people from sleeping beneath its iconic red awning.

There’s some table stakes required for modern, civil living in cities: space to linger (no purchase required), access to bathrooms, and baseline dignity. As more and more people flock to cities, the balance between these hostile, aggressive tactics, public safety, and basic human rights will become a bigger issue. (NRB)

Quick Links:

  • Per last week’s Sonic Edition, WITI reader Igor sent in this study: “We measured 160 English-language films released from 1935 to 2010 and found four changes. First, shot lengths have gotten shorter, a trend also reported by others. Second, contemporary films have more motion and movement than earlier films. Third, in contemporary films shorter shots also have proportionately more motion than longer shots, whereas there is no such relation in older films. And finally films have gotten darker. … Filmmakers have incrementally tried to exercise more control over the attention of filmgoers. We suggest these changes are signatures of the evolution of popular film; they do not reflect changes in film style.”

  • I just moved into a new office and needed a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. In trying to figure out which one to buy, I ran into the problem of “ear suck” where noise-cancelling headphones seem to make people feel like they’re creating a strange pressure. Here’s a good explanation of why it happens. (NRB)

  • Hadn’t considered the safety implications of What Three Words, the tech that breaks down the world into individual three word coordinates. (CJN)

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)