Design and Violence


Factory Furniture, 2012

Monolithic determination of use

The Camden Bench is a piece of concrete street furniture weighing almost two tonnes. It was commissioned by the Camden Borough Council and designed by Factory Furniture for use in the north London neighbourhood to deter unwanted behaviours. According to its creators, the bench is designed “to resist criminal and antisocial behaviour”. It deters rough sleeping as its ridged top and sloped surfaces make it difficult to lie on. Drug dealing is made difficult, as without crevices there is no place to hide contraband, while shallow recesses along the bench’s front and back allow people to store their bags temporarily behind their legs for security. Cleaning and maintenance is reduced as there are no flat surfaces or crevices where litter can accumulate, and the bench is designed so that dirt and water flow off. It has received both design awards and criticism, been included in an art installation, and some have taken up the challenge to skateboard on it.

In cities, certain uses of urban architecture are discouraged through the deployment of designed objects. Pigeons are deterred through spikes, kites or decoys that imitate predatory birds. Metal studs may prevent a skateboarder from using the edge of a railing to perform a trick. Spikes along the ledges of windows outside shops and institutions prevent people from sitting on them. Benches may be designed to be difficult to sleep on to discourage people experiencing homelessness from using them. These designs form part of an ‘architecture of control’ in which the ways we experience cities are via physical obstacles, sound, and legislation backed up by the threat of force. In these ways, we might say that cities have violence embedded in them by design, this can be referred to as ‘exclusionary’ or ‘hostile’ architecture.

Image courtesy of The wub (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons