| Author: James Furzer
| Spatial Design Architects
| Project Report:
Through photography, I have investigated the defensive types of public benches within the Greater London area, providing a documentary study into the relationship between rough sleepers, space and defensive architectures. These spaces and their components are to be documented, examined and argued to prompt the need of architectural intervention and propose a positive move towards the homeless. Defensive architecture, is by its definition to deter the undesirable members of the community such as the homeless. Defined by J. Petty (2016, p.68) as ‘structures installed in public spaces in order to render them unusable. Throughout the streets of London, specific techniques of hostile types are applied to deter anti-social behaviour.
Spaces are designed with many specific reasons, some of which intend to defend an area, subliminally, or not, from the more undesirable members of the community, actually rejecting them from allowing access to the designed area. When referring to ‘undesirables’ I reference those rough sleeping. The phrase taken from the Spanish ‘Social Cleansing’ regime. (Anon, 2017) Rough sleepers are seen as the human form of litter within a space. The stigma attached to the homeless is often a negative one, and therefore it is seen that where the homeless loiter, generally reflects on the area in a negative way. The thought process of homeless being drug addicts and alcoholics, and therefore would be found in the slummier, less desirable areas of our spaces.
Designs that parade themselves as modern breakthroughs in accessibility and functionality, facade themselves to cover an underlying deterrent quality that appears oblivious to the everyday working-class user. A perfect example is the Camden bench. (factory furniture, 2017) A bench that is designed with the sole purpose of deterring loiterers. A bench that has a façade of functionality, being able to provide over 20 seating possibilities. Each seating option allows the user to temporarily find comfort, whilst being designed to avoid any long stay periods, and even sleeping opportunities. The bench has been designed in such as a way that skateboarders are no longer able to use it, homeless are no longer able to sleep on it and the public are no longer able to rest on it for a long period of time.
My photographic curation of existing benches within London and Essex, in my opinion, provides a coherent physical evidential outcome to my thesis argument. Through the documented images taken, using techniques of previous photography greats, I have been able to provide a timeline of not only the bench itself, but also the design development, or lack of, of the public bench, A topic as broad as homelessness, and with the ability to predict the movement and location of individuals, coupled with the requirements and wants of homeless individuals, it can be hard for architects to design to future proof the crisis. This is made harder with client requirements and specifications over conscious public requirements. Using one specific element of every day norm. An item that is accessible to all walks of life, I have been able to demonstrate how the undesirables of the community have been, and are continuing to be, designed out of public space. With aspirations to greater understand and apply an architectural discourse regarding the continuing debate on homelessness, the lack of grounded architectural spaces for individuals seeking a sense of home is extremely distressing. It is therefore vital, that the spaces that are provided, welcome a mixed variety of uses and occupier, with different timescales of usage.
The bench represents an entire range of defensive and aggressive architecture. These images intentionally strip back the façade of functionality and address the aggression within design. They also, unintentionally, expose the aggression within design, throughout past bench design, showing how the now current ‘negative public reflection’ of the homeless (anti homeless bench), has always been visible to see, and is not merely a crisis within current times. These photography techniques can be applied to any designed component, whilst successfully creating the same clarity of form and functionality, allowing a further curation of photos to explore the theories further. There is a need for architecture and public space to address the physical issue of rough sleeping and homelessness. The profession has a duty of care to design spaces of involvement, comfort and security, and not spaces of exclusion, discomfort and segregation. Examples of bench such as the Camden bench, (factory furniture, 2017) and the benches directly outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, (Quinn, 2017) show a lack of the designer’s duties being undertaken, hidden behind the noted façade of functionality. A case of who do we want here, and who do we not want here. I can wholeheartedly say, that defensive architecture exists on an unprecedented level, and is sadly on the rise. With design guides instructing designers to incorporate such methods, we need to ask the question of the origin of this style of architecture, along with its actual hidden intentions. We require a friendlier architecture to change the current perception of homelessness.
Spaces could be designed to include the necessities of which those who require designed space immediately at their disposal. If this is the case, it is essential that architects begin to understand the entire use of the spaces they design. The role of the architect then becomes more detailed, with the architect prompting potential uses for the space, and moving away from defining these spaces, but encouraging an array of mixed and multicultural uses. Architecture could be placed in a position in which it encourages the use, thus improving the lives of those who desperately need it more than the clients that the architect generally service for a fee. It appears that current design and policing provisions put in place only shift the homeless community along elsewhere as opposed to benefiting the community. A system that calls for encouragement as opposed to retraction and deterrent.