Defensive Arquitecture

Our cities are fueled by the people who inhabit them, who live in them, who build them and use them. But as inherent as it might be the need to populate and create space available for everybody to enjoy and explore, we often don’t realize that space is as much ours as it is designed specially to control us. Also, the notion that public spaces are destined to “everybody” is false, seeing as that word seems to not include “every person”, but only a specific group of people with a certain social position, which excludes, for example, homeless people or the youth. However, this technique of defensive arquitecture is fashioned with a terrible error in its result, an ironic paradox of intention, because this arquitecture of control doesn’t discriminate, it doesn’t only affect people without a home and the youth, it affects every passer-by, every pregnant woman or eldery person, everyone carrying weights in need of a comfortable place to sit down and rest on. This kind of arquitecture manifests in various ways – tradicional benches in parks are replaced with stainless steel, wave-shaped seats designed to induce discomfort and keep people from hanging around those spots for too long; in “free spaces” under bridges, at entrances of buildings, on tunnels and passage ways, metal spikes are installed to keep people from sleeping on the floor; metal pieces on corners to prevent urination; bollards disguised as floral arrangements mark spaces within public space; anti-skating devices carefully installed on walls and sidewalks;etc…

It seems that as much as street signs indicating in which direction to walk to, so is this type of arquitecture informative in the way that it silently “encourages” proper conduct and deters from what is considered to be “unacceptable” behaviour. It also operates in a way that whishes to quietly but not so sucessfully “protect” the eyes of the so called public to the cruel realities of homelessness, poverty or marginalization. Adorning public spaces with agressive metal spikes is a not so subtle invitation adressed to us saying, quite simply, “fuck off”, and it certainly doesn’t do anything to help tackle the social issues at hand, it is only but a poor attempt to sweep it under the rug.

Parallel to this is the potential for an artistic creation and perspective on this phenomenon and its objects as sculptural pieces. How will a bird spiked-barrier read as a mere aesthetical object on the floor of a gallery, or how can I use these anti-people spikes to manipulate space myself within the walls of a gallery room?

– Vicente Sampaio


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