London creatives challenge “defensive architecture” trend

Better Than Spikes PIC: Immo Klink/Marco Godoy license CC BY-ND

Art collective Better Than Spikes have given “anti-homeless” spikes in Shoreditch a makeover.

The group transformed an area of metal spikes on Curtain Road, Shoreditch into a bed and library as part of a campaign to make urban spaces more inclusive.

Campaigners argue that anti-homeless spikes are an attempt to ignore and dehumanise the most vulnerable in society.

Leah Borromeo of Better Than Spikes said: “Defensive architecture says that people, regardless of whether they have homes or not, are not welcome. Putting spikes up like this doesn’t address the issues of inequality and poverty – it just pushes them away from your immediate vision so that you don’t have to look at them.”

The group targeted Shoreditch in reaction to the gentrification taking place in one of London’s most prominent creative hubs.

Better than Spikes write on their Tumblr: “We chose the Curtain Road location because of its resonance with artists. Round the corner and down the road were the studios and spaces used by artists who couldn’t afford anywhere else to live and work.

“Nothing says ‘keep out’ to a person more than rows of sharpened buttplugs laid out to stop people from enjoying or using public space.”

Art Collective Better Than Spikes use a mattress to cover ‘anti-homeless’ spikes in Shoreditch PIC: Immo Klink/Marco Godoy license CC BY-ND

London’s anti-homeless spikes are part of a trend defined as “defensive architecture” – a controversial development in urban design in which public spaces are altered to influence public behaviour.

Angled perches at bus stops, anti-loitering Mosquito devices which emit sounds only young people can hear and benches designed to actively deter rough sleeping are other forms of “hostile” urban designs.

London is not alone in its embrace of defensive architecture. New York introduced designed anti-sit devices which can be found on standpipes and air-conditioning units while Yantai Park in Shandong, China has a pay-per-minute system for the use of its benches.

Architectural technician James Furzer from Dagenham, East London has also joined the movement against rise of London’s “defensive architecture” by designing a series of off-the-ground sleeping pods.

The static pods come with a mattress, storage space and a makeshift living area and designed to be attached to the side of a building using two steel frames.

Furzer hopes the sleeping pods will provide refuge for rough sleepers in London and help tackle the problem of anti-homeless spikes.

Speaking to the MailOnline Furzer said: “I know it’s not going to solve homeless or even help their lifestyle – I’m not claiming to have a complete resolution. There are many bigger issues around homelessness in London.

“But it is somewhere to give them a night’s rest, to give them a bit of an escape for a few hours.”

These initiatives follow last year’s anti-homeless spikes scandal which saw Tesco remove a number of spikes from its Regent Street store after protests.

By Scarlett Alexander

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