hostile design barbed wire

When design is hostile on purpose

Design is an important aspect of our lives. It plays a crucial role in shaping the way we perceive the world around us. Design can be used to create positive experiences, promote inclusivity and accessibility, and encourage engagement. However, there are instances when design is used for hostile purposes. Hostile design, also known as defensive architecture, is a design strategy that intentionally makes it difficult or uncomfortable for certain individuals or groups to access or use public spaces.

What is Hostile Design?

Hostile design is a design strategy that uses architecture and other elements to discourage certain behaviors or groups of people from using public spaces. Hostile design is often used to prevent homeless individuals from sleeping on benches or loitering in certain areas. Examples of hostile design include spikes on benches or windowsills, curved or tilted seating, and rough or uncomfortable surfaces.

Unfriendly design (or architecture) is also implemented in public restrooms to discourage drug use or prostitution. For example, some restrooms have blue lights installed that make it difficult to see veins, making it challenging to inject drugs. You can find this approach being used in the form of metal spikes or protrusions on ledges, fences, and walls to prevent skateboarders and other individuals from using these structures.

One of the first example that came to our mind when we start writing this post was barbwire (or barbed wire). This type of fencing material made of steel wire with sharp and pointed edges arranged at intervals along the strand, was first invented in the United States in the late 1800s as a solution to the problem of open-range grazing and land disputes in the American West.

Prior to the invention of barbwire, it was difficult to contain livestock and prevent them from wandering onto other people’s land. This led to conflicts between ranchers and farmers, and even among neighboring ranchers. Barbwire helped to solve this problem by creating a physical barrier that could keep livestock within a designated area.

However, barbwire has also been used for hostile purposes, such as to deter or injure trespassers. During the 20th century, barbwire was used extensively in war zones as a means of fortification and to create barriers between opposing forces. It was also used as a form of punishment in prison camps and to restrict movement of civilians during times of conflict.

In modern times, barbwire is still used for security purposes, particularly around prisons, military bases, and other high-security facilities. It is still put in place as a deterrent against animals, such as to protect crops or gardens from deer or rabbits.

Implications in today’s society and public space

Hostile design has significant implications for society. It reinforces social inequalities and promotes exclusion. It sends a message that certain individuals or groups are not welcome in public spaces. Aggressive design create an unwelcoming environment for everyone, regardless of whether they are the intended targets or not. It makes public spaces less comfortable and less accessible, which can lead to a decline in social cohesion and community engagement.

Exclusionary space or product can also have negative consequences for mental health and create feelings of anxiety, stress, and insecurity in individuals who feel targeted or excluded. Those targeted individuals may feel a sense of isolation and disconnection from the community.

Defensive architecture has economic implications by reducing property values and deter tourists and visitors from visiting certain areas. It may results in legal liability for property owners and municipalities. Lawsuits have been filed against cities that use hostile design strategies to target homeless individuals, arguing that these strategies violate human rights and promote discrimination.


There are alternative strategies that can be used to promote inclusivity and accessibility in public spaces. By involving communities in the design process, designers can ensure that public spaces are designed to meet the needs and preferences of the people who use them.

Another strategy is to use universal design principles as a strategy that aims to create products and environments that are usable by everyone, regardless of their age, ability, or status. Universal design can make public spaces more welcoming and accessible to everyone.

Perkins graduate Beverly Grady has spent three decades making her hometown a more welcoming place for people who are blind.

One example of good inclusive design is the use of non-slip surfaces on floors in public spaces to prevent slips and falls for everyone, rather than relying on warning signs that may not be noticed or understood by all people.

Finally by educating the public about the benefits of inclusive design, designers can create a culture of diversity and availability.

Hostile design is an approach to making things that intentionally excludes certain individuals or groups from public spaces. Exclusionary design has significant implications for society, including reinforcing social inequalities and promoting exclusion. It is important for designers to consider the potential implications of their design choices and to create public spaces that are welcoming and accessible to everyone. By promoting inclusivity and accessibility in public spaces, we can create a more just and equitable society where everyone feels valued and included.

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