Design Crime: Art & Social Justice.

Stickers by Stuart Semple.

From spikes installed on window ledges to bars that divide benches into a set number of seats, examples of disciplinary architecture — otherwise known as hostile urban architecture — are all around us. Such designs deliberately restrict certain behaviors in public spaces, and while they affect everyone, they especially target homeless individuals, who cannot rest on these surfaces.

The UK-based artist Stuart Semple has created a campaign to try and raise awareness about these often subtle forms of social control. Today, he launched a website, Hostile Design, as a platform where people can easily and quickly spread word about these designs. It simply calls for anyone to photograph examples anywhere in the world, and share them on Instagram with the hashtag #hostiledesign. The website then aggregates these in a “design crime gallery.”

“Hostile design is design that intends to restrict freedom or somehow control a human being — be that homeless people, a skater or everyday humans congregating to enjoy themselves,” Semple told Hyperallergic. “The danger of hostile design is it’s so insidious. It’s so quiet, so camouflaged, that unless you know what it is, you accept it. And that blind acceptance makes things grow and spread.”

To further inform people beyond the digital sphere, he is also distributing stickers he created, which are available on the website. These “design crime” stickers are intended for pasting on offending surfaces and are available through pay-what-you-can pricing.

A bus stop in Bournemouth.

Living rural, I don’t see things like the above bus stop, which honestly shocked me. I’m about the size of a twig, and trying to sit on that “bench” would be very uncomfortable for me. Has it become so important to us to keep the afflicted and unfortunate out of sight that we willingly go along with being punished by this “disciplinary architecture”? This certainly strikes me as immoral and unethical, making every surrounding hostile because oh my, someone might actually find a place they could lie down and sleep, the horror! Par for the course, there’s zero effort to do anything about the problem of homeless people, but there’s a whole lot of effort going into driving them away from all public spaces. Certainly does not speak well of us. This isn’t just about driving the unfortunate out of sight, there’s also a public stair handrail, which has a block placed on it, just in case anyone had a fit of happy and wanted to slide on the railing.

I can’t say I’ve noticed anything like this in Bismarck, but I’m arming myself with stickers, and I’ll be looking.

There’s much more to read and see at Hyperallergic.


  1. Onamission5 says

    That’s not a bench, it’s a tailbone shelf. My sciatic-pelvic-hip issues took one look and started writing curses against the design approval committee.

  2. kestrel says

    Wow. That looks exactly like a hitching post for tying your horse. What a bunch of jerks.

    This reminds me of stuff you can do to stop chickens from fighting when they roost at night, since their fighting and aggression can stop other chickens from using the roost: you put in a series of panels, from the roost up, marking off enough space for one chicken to roost (about a foot or so). They can’t see each other through the panels, so their aggression does not even get started and all can sleep in peace. But for dog sake, we don’t try and keep them from sleeping on the roost!

  3. says

    I’ve noticed that the lighting in public restrooms is often harsh, which isn’t helped by the enormous mirrors. It’s never occurred to me that this might be a deliberate effort to discomfit people and prod them to leave quickly. It infuriates me, because the lighting in malls and big box stores can give my aunt seizures.

  4. says

    Joseph, I wouldn’t be surprised. The article talks a lot about the social manipulation and compliance created by hostile design.

  5. chigau (違う) says

    This is more expensive than not putting in any bench at all.
    In addition to the class warfare, someone made money on this deal.

  6. says


    In addition to the class warfare, someone made money on this deal.

    Someone always does. I was appalled by all the photos, all this anti-human stuff. Like pigeon spikes for people.

  7. Ice Swimmer says

    The worst excuse of a bus/tram stop bench around here is two horizontal metal pipes, one slightly higher than the other, about an inch or two (a few cm) apart from each other. Not very good in the winter or ever. Most stops feature a proper GRP (fiberglass) bench, though. There are handrests in the middle on some park benches.

    At least they’ve mostly given up on the violet lights in public/cafe toilets. Those were supposed to make injecting/finding a vein impossible. The Helsinki City WCs (free public toilets made of steel, with a unisex urinal and a wheelchair accessible toilet with a diaper change table, found in parks) even feature a needle disposal hole in the wall.

  8. says

    Ice Swimmer:

    There are handrests in the middle on some park benches.

    They have photos of middle barred benches at Hyperallergic -- they aren’t handrests, they’re to prevent a person from laying down.

  9. Ice Swimmer says

    There are actual middle handrests here on benches, but yes the reason they put them there isn’t comfort, it is what you say plus plausible deniability.

  10. says

    I bet you could cut great seat-pans out some cop cars. Cops’re generous community-spirited sorts, sure they wouldn’t mind.

    Actually I notice they never leave their cars unattended anymore. Its like they are worried about tracking devices or IEDs

  11. jazzlet says

    There have been several successful campaigns to get ‘people spikes’ removed from various places in the UK.

    The benches are a bit more complicated in the UK. Often bus stops are on already narrow pavements and the ‘perching’ seats are a poor compromise between no seating and seating that would result in too much pavement being taken up and people having to detour into the roadway to get past anyone sitting down. I am in no way suggesting that we don’t see benches designed to stop people sleeping on them, just that it is not always the primary reason for installing perching seats here.

  12. says


    Often bus stops are on already narrow pavements and the ‘perching’ seats are a poor compromise between no seating and seating that would result in too much pavement being taken up and people having to detour into the roadway to get past anyone sitting down.

    Ah. I think it’s fair to say that such a “bench” is hardly better than nothing. A bunch of cushions on the pavement would be more comfortable. I’m sure it wouldn’t be all that difficult to come up with a well designed solution, especially with so many designers and architects working on and with limited spaces. Of course, placing a “bench” no one would want to sit on is certainly cheaper, and I’m sure enriches someone’s pockets. That’s yet another aspect to the badness of hostile architecture.

  13. Athaic says

    We had two public outcries last year in France on this topic.
    In one case, it was about benches in a shopping mall which were made inaccessible after closing hours by having them individually surrounded by a high fence.
    More recently, the other case was the denunciation by Emmaus of the installation of automatic showering systems outside of buildings, meant to drench people who stay too long in some place -- like recesses next to a building’s parking entrance, or any other place providing some shelter against the weather.

    I’m afraid that, in both cases, the public reproaches gained traction because these methods were too obvious in their objective (and also maybe some flavor of “who is paying for this? It looks it’s me, the customer”). Benches with armrests and other more innocuous ways of impediment don’t trigger the same ire.
    A more positive way to look at this is that, in the cases of the fenced benches or of the showers, it is easier for people to empathize with the homeless. Everybody out shopping wants to sit down in a while, and no-one is looking for being hosed with water in the middle of winter.

  14. says

    If all the money invested into punishing the homeless went into helping them, well, the homelessness problem would not disappear, but it would be much smaller.

  15. says


    So since spite and bigotry cost more money, you will definitely see the USA continue to revel in being spiteful and bigoted. **rolls eyes** Frelling idiots.

    Quoted for Truth.

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