Hostile architecture is a design strategy that opposes the comfortable use of public amenities. Interaction seating, ledges, and awnings is managed not through disciplinary institutions but through diffuse elements of control. This control is accomplished with intentionally uncomfortable design features. Under a program of "crime prevention and protection of property" (Chellew, 2019) hostile architecture targets vulnerable groups that rely on public amenities the most. Spikes, bars, uneven platforms, or lack of adequate space seek to deter convenient and comfortable occupation, discouraging positive self-identification and the possibility of place-making.
If we are to learn anything from hostile architecture, it is that most city planning engages with space as static. This rigidity suggests planning engages in the construction of a certain type of space that can be considered good by ensuring particular forms of engagement. However, anyone who occupies public space knows that space is relational and emerges through interactions. Space is a mediator not a container, connecting users and those holding power over its production. Eventually, meaning appears and harmonises as place.
For this exhibition, Phat Le and Benjamin de Boer reflect on the possibility of hospitality in urban space by performing interventions on hostile architecture by using concrete to level uneven surfaces and cover spikes. The performing activity can transform acceptable behaviour and help form place. Spaces such as walkways, ledges, parkettes, and plazas that are impacted by hostile architecture are perfect areas for engaging in intervention. They bring conscious attention to the groups occupying these spaces, as well as the programs set against occupation. Phat and Benjamin will engage in the active modification of hostile architecture with concrete in order to reduce discomfort. Performative actions change the perception of the programs set in place, and the programs themselves, as behavioural rules are modified through public participation. This loose playful construction of informal programming promotes self-identification.
These interventions will be left in public space. Traces of these interventions will be displayed within the gallery. These traces will take the form of straight photographic documentation and material restaging of the concrete modifications.
Chellew, Cara (2019). "Defending Suburbia: Exploring the use of defensive urban design outside of the city centre". Canadian Journal of Urban Research.
i) Announcement of a Period of Reflection on the Current State of Hostility in Toronto
During this week in January we intend to gather, present a small amount of ongoing research, and learn about hostile architecture in Toronto. At the end of this week a public discussion will be held concerning countermeasures against hostile architecture, and art’s relationship with participatory planning.
This period of reflection on hostile architecture and participatory planning is being presented in relation to DesignTO. These design events present many alluring and catchy solutions to problems we may have never even considered before. Many of these big-picture innovations tend to dazzle and produce sites of delectation. We feel this buzz is a distraction.
This conversation is being staged within a space that is already attempting to experiment with public and private space. Rather than present an artistic intervention in response to policy we deliver these fragments to be further added to and circulated.
Responsible and pragmatic work towards producing hospitable public space is critically unappealing and cannot be easily packaged. What we are presenting here is not final and is hardly a statement. We wish to see how interventions in public space are perceived in relation to a general movement towards hospitable participation in the development of public spaces.
At this moment we do not attempt to offer a clarified and analytical solution to the problem of hostile architecture. Rather, within a research framework carried out during our investigation, we hope to further understand the sentiments triggered by this uncertainty. Action taken in response to hostile architecture will necessarily take multiple forms.
The immediate problem of hostile architecture implemented in public space is just an entry point to larger scale problems with how space is defined and governed.
We feel that we are capable of participating in concentrated everyday reflection.
Concrete solutions for hostile problems: in conversation with Phat Le and Benjamin de Boer
Interview by Cason Sharpe for Public Parking