Anti-unhoused architecture prevents people from laying down on a public bench. (Laurie Avocado / Flickr)


Opinion: Anti-unhoused architecture is an urban phenomenon

Hostile architecture is maliciously working against unhoused people looking for a place to rest.
<a href="" target="_self">Charlton Tsai</a>

Charlton Tsai

April 21, 2023
The perfect, utopian landscape stretches itself out in front of your eyes. Clean, freshly paved streets stretch out across the city, alongside evenly spaced trees and trimmed shrubs. It’s an urban city like no other.

Parks are placed every two miles to the convenience of families, and the community is filled with dog walkers, couples, and young children. This may strike you as a dream, but at what cost? The harsh answer to that is the creation of a rising phenomenon: anti-unhoused architecture. 

Now, I’d like to clarify something before diving into the topic. Many of us, myself included, have grown accustomed to the term “homeless.” After reading this feature, I urge you all to coin the term “unhoused.” By using “homeless,” we are effectively indicating that it is one of society’s failures and burdens — rather than an unfortunate circumstance that many individuals may end up in.

By saying that one is “homeless,” we force the idea that an individual is without a home, a castaway. In reality, home is where your loved ones are, where you go to feel happy. Home has a different connotation for every individual. 

As the unhoused population has grown, so has architecture resisting their presence. Some of this architecture may come off as merely stylistic, when in reality many of them serve a deeper purpose. One of the most common examples of this architecture many of us have come upon are benches. If you consider a bench: what is the reason for handles on a bench? The answer — there is none.

In New York City, “sharp metal teeth” line a garden wall and benches with metal bars separate a public bench, according to a 2019 story in New York Times.

During cold weather, some unhoused people will warm up near storm vents which sometimes give off warmth. Hostile architecture keeps people away from these vents with fences or raised ridges.

This hostile architecture has been strategically designed to make sleeping uncomfortable for the unhoused.

The solution to the growing unhoused population is not by creating architecture which interrupts their ability to sleep, but rather the opposite. By investing money into something that simply pushes the unhoused community out of sight, it also perpetuates the stigma and prejudice held against the unhoused, making it even more difficult for them to reintegrate into society.

More money should be invested into architecture which is welcome and available to everyone. Public restrooms and showers should become commonplace, as there are countless other demographics of people who need accessibility to such facilities, such as people who live in their vehicles. 

Ultimately, the core of anti-unhoused architecture can not simply be broken down to the design of public spaces, but about the larger idea of poverty and the unhoused population. By addressing the root causes of these problems and finding solutions that are inclusive and equitable, the creation of urban cities envisioned by many may finally come true.

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