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Anti-Homeless Architecture: Hidden in Plain Sight

What is 'anti-homeless architecture'?

Anti-Homeless architecture is essentially a form of design that’s intended purpose is to prevent homeless people using it for sleep or rest. Also known as ‘hostile design’, it has its roots in the 1990s where it first began. However, in the past 10 years its use in London and the rest of the UK has increased exponentially; its hard to find a high street without certain subtle forms of this inhumane design technique.

What are some examples of anti-homeless architecture?

There are multiple forms of anti-homeless architecture, ranging from subtle forms like sloped benches to more obvious vile forms such as spikes. Below we will highlight some of the most common designs, show photos and explain how their design is anti-homeless.

Sloped Benches

The first example (seen below) are sloped benches. If you live in the UK you’ve more than likely seen these small uncomfortable benches near train stations or bus stations. They can hardly be considered benches as you need to still use your legs to be able to rest against them. This isn’t a design flaw. This is on purpose. These benches are sloped and short to make sure that no homeless person can sleep on them. This is just one subtle example of anti-homeless benches.

Curved Benches

As shown below, curved benches are benches that are in a semi-circle shape facing outwards, most commonly wrapped around a column or a tree. At first glance, this makes sense. The wrapped bench fits nicely against the column/tree and aesthetically looks nice and neat. But the real reason these benches are curved is to prevent a human body from lying on it horizontally.

‘Arm Rests’

Living in the UK you’ve more likely than not seen the type of seating below. Naively, you’ll look at these seats and just see seats with arm rests. Which is great right? Wrong. The purpose of these steel bars is the prevent the homeless from sleeping on them. Below is just one example, but if you go out for a walk today, you’ll most likely see benches with unnecessary separators or arm rests.


Moving on from bench types, another common and even more sadistic form of anti-homeless architecture is spikes. We’ve all seen bird spikes on shopping malls to prevent pigeons and the like, but in some areas of London, there are spikes for the homeless. These spikes are most commonly found in doorways or in-front of shop windows for high class stores (e.g. Selfridges) to prevent homeless people from sleeping or resting there. Selfridges Manchester stated that they were to ‘prevent smoking’, yeah, right. In many cases these spikes are retractable, and only come up once the store is shut for the night.

This brings us to the reason behind these designs – people don’t want to see homeless people. Essentially, these designs and structures are put in place in areas so that the homeless population cannot be seen, ‘out of sight out of mind’. For example, a high-end store such as ‘Selfridges’ don’t want to ruin their ‘aesthetic’ with vulnerable homeless people in-front of their ‘high class’ shop windows.

Can we fix this?

In 2014 there was online disgrace when photos were posted of anti-homeless spikes in the alcove of luxury apartments in Southwark, London. These photos went viral and outrage ensued. So much online virality that it even garnered the attention of the Mayor of London at the time, Boris Johnson. Boris deemed them ‘'ugly, self-defeating and stupid” and called for their removal. However, nothing could be done. Southwark council investigated the matter but found it did not break any structural guidelines or break any laws. Therefore, when it comes to ‘how to fix’ this issue, its unlikely we will be able to. So, what is more important is that these designs effect less people – and this is done by getting people off the street and into housing. Instead of focusing on the horrible symptoms caused by homelessness, we need to focus on making sure no-one is without a home.

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