London has become a home for many people. Many rough sleepers also find themselves in this city of diverse cultures and ideas. From 2013 to 2023, the homeless population in London has increased by 54 per cent, making the city the most populated area with rough sleepers. Hostile architecture, purposefully built to keep these people from resting in certain places, has become a trend following this upsurge.
Single Homeless Project explains hostile architecture is “often intentionally built in public spaces to deter ‘unwelcome behaviour’ from groups who use these spaces the most”. These designs vary from benches with armrests to spiked fences and bumpy pavements. The architectural choices keep away people who need those spaces to sleep, which makes spending a prolonged period in a specific spot impossible.
The rise of anti-homeless benches
The anti-homeless bench is one example of urban architecture that discourages homeless people from seeking refuge in public areas. These benches often include armrests or partitions, preventing people from lying down comfortably. Although the goal may be to stop criminal activities, some criticise that these designs further marginalise and dehumanise the already marginalised population.
Hostile architecture in London
Rough sleepers in London face this obstacle as the city has been building areas that purposefully discriminate against these people in need. The Camden Bench is one of the most prominent examples. In 2012, the London Borough of Camden commissioned a company to design public benches for the borough. The sloped seating was designed against theft, drug dealing, graffiti and posters. Instead, it resulted in a hostile architecture where rough sleepers could not rest.
Beyond benches, hostile architecture can take many different shapes, all aimed at deterring particular groups of people or behaviours. Sloped seating, metal studs on level surfaces, and window ledge spikes are a few strategies to discourage people from sleeping or gathering in particular places. These design decisions create ethical questions as they are frequently encouraged by the need to preserve a specific aesthetic or safeguard public areas. We risk creating an exclusive and unwelcoming environment by putting a city’s aesthetic appeal ahead of its citizens’ welfare.
The impact of hostile architecture
The construction of hostile architecture and anti-homeless benches directly impacts the physical and mental well-being of the homeless population in London. The absence of conveniently located and appropriate public spaces limits their options for rest. Not only that, by isolating individuals from the community and fostering negative stereotypes, these behaviours may further worsen the stigma attached to homelessness.
It is impossible to deny that homelessness is a complicated problem with many underlying socioeconomic roots, and blocking public areas won’t solve them. Instead, it worsens their problems and drives them farther away from society.
To properly foster an inclusive and caring urban environment, a re-evaluation of urban design is necessary. Creating hospitable, easily accessible, and supportive public areas should be the priority.