Hostile designs can look innocuous, like “armrest” bars dividing up a public bench to prevent rough sleeping. So artist Stuart Semple has launched a new sticker series and website to highlight these approaches around the world. Already, this campaign is having an effect, and at least one English borough has caved to pressure from Semple and other activists his project helped inspire.
The “Design Crime” stickers are available on his new site, Hostile Design, which also has a gallery showcasing any images tagged on Instagram with #HostileDesign. He is offering some stickers for free for those who can’t afford to pay, and asking those who can to send either 50 pence (to cover printing) or a pound (to cover free sets for others).
“Hostile design is design that intends to restrict freedom or somehow control a human being — be that homeless people, a skater or everyday humans congregating to enjoy themselves,” Semple told Hyperallergic. “The danger of hostile design is it’s so insidious. It’s so quiet, so camouflaged, that unless you know what it is, you accept it. And that blind acceptance makes things grow and spread.”
A UK-based artist, Semple was inspired to create this awareness-raising project after encountering defensive design in his hometown of Bournemouth. There, old seats were retrofitted with new dividers. This was a particularly visible intervention because the bars clashed with the benches, making their hostile intent especially clear.
Thanks to a petition sparked by Semple’s photos and signed by nearly 20,000 protesters, the local Borough Council has since announced it is removing divider bars from public benches. “We’re totally over the moon,” said Semple of the news. He cites this victory as a great example of what can happen “when the community comes together” and “gets behind something.”
Meanwhile, Semple continues to encourage people to tag hostile designs around the world with the stickers he designed and share the results on social media. He hopes this effort will help raise awareness and start discussions among urban activists and planners, in turn leading to more inclusive and welcoming public space design.
“Hostile designs are designs against humanity,” argues Semple. “They are made specifically to exclude, harm or otherwise hinder the freedom of a human being. Quite often they aim to remove a certain section of a community from a public space.”
Note: Semple’s website also includes an “important disclaimer” that he is “not endorsing any kind of vandalism or public damage.” It advises interested participants to check local laws and, “if you are worried, apply the sticker, take your photo and then remove the sticker.”