Disciplinary Architecture or Deterrence by Design

by Alix Taylor on June 11, 2014

A man protests the spikes on the ground intended to prevent homeless people from sleeping on the ground. (image via Ethical Pioneer’s twitter account)

Earlier this week, London Mayor Boris Johnson took to Twitter to respond to recent controversy surrounding anti-homeless measures taken by real estate company Property Planners at their upscale Southwark Bridge Road property. Spikes that were installed to deter sleeping and sitting beside the entrance of a luxury building were brought to public attention on Saturday following a tweet by @EthicalPioneer that has since inspired petition and protest.

Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 2.01.04 PM

Image via @MayorofLondon’s Twitter account)

Political play, or not, the London mayor’s passionate response speaks directly to the outrage surrounding the issue of London’s growing homeless population, which, according to London based charity Crisis, has jumped a staggering 75% in the past three years.

Unlike most disciplinary architecture, the architectural practices aimed at controlling our behaviors don’t inspire Twitterstorms, yet the majority of these subtle mechanisms of crowd control permeate our daily lives.

The most recent example in London may lack any nuance, but the urge to herd homeless populations and other visually undesirable groups is an impulse that is in no way unique to London’s luxe real-estate developments. All we have to do is look at our own parks and public transportation networks to see specially designed benches, ones that limit space for lying down, to understand how our public space is far from relaxing. These interventions are complemented by uncomfortable ledges and ‘pig ear’ skate-stoppers on hard surfaces that all discourage loitering and skateboarding in public space.

Example of anti-homeless bench design. (Image via

The subtlety of most elements designed to control our behavior within the built environment is what makes the spikes all the more striking but far from unique. Mosquito youth dispersal alarms, which emit a high-frequency sound only audible to teens between the ages of 13 and 25 to keep them from loitering in front of businesses, is yet another example of how our urban space is policed and controlled. Not everyone is happy.

Photo from Survival Group’s “Anti-Sites” Project (via Survival Group)

About a decade ago, Parisians began to complain over the use of anti-homeless measures in their city, and as a result one French photography collective began documenting the realities of urban disciplinary architecture, while another advocacy group, The Children of Don Quixote, went one step further and erected urban campgrounds for the homeless.

In 2014, it seems normal that Twitter activists would take on the role of whistle-blowers and community organizers, though we’d be fooled to believe that everyone on social media shares the same outrage over images of spikes designed for the homeless.

The public back and forth, if anything, forces us to more closely examine our built environments. Ultimately, the spikes bring up a conversation that we should have been having all along. Here are some more examples of the use of disciplinary architecture in our daily lives that many of us ultimately overlook:


Sit-stoppers (Image via skateandannoy)

An anti-pee device (via

An anti-pee device (via

Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 6.26.25 PM

Curved iron bar to prevent sitting. (image via publicartnow)

Obstacles to skateboarders (via

Obstacles to skateboarders (via

Keep moving (via Tumblr)

Keep moving (via Tumblr)

Fancy but still … (via

Fancy but still … (via

UPDATE, June 12, 11:56am EDT: The mayor of Montreal expressed outrage at “anti-homeless spikes” in his city, while today, activists in London poured concrete on “anti-homeless spikes” as a form of protest:

Screen Shot 2014-06-12 at 11.54.50 AM


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  • Barb

    Having people sleep and excrete in public places is a health issue and pushes away customers.

    • Jason

      People sleeping and excreting in public place is absolutely a health issue. But instead of “how can we prevent the homeless from sleeping here”, shouldn’t we be thinking “how can we prevent homelessness”?

      • Chicken Fingers

        Doesn’t have to be either-or. We can do both-and.

        • Barb

          It is not good for homeless people to live as they do – treating public living spaces as private. They need to get their lives together and the only way to do that is getting them into the job market. No one wants people using their front doors and business entrances as public, open, toilets. We left that behind in the Middle Ages.

    • mazi

      capitalism/consumerism over humanity!!!

      • Barb

        capitalism/consumerism is the path to eliminating homelessness….only in creating jobs will people be able to take care of themselves. wake up and explore reality.

        • No capitalist creates more jobs than they need to, or pays more than they have to. Any business is interested in employing as few people as possible, and paying them as little as it can get away with.

  • Ashby_Sassafras_III

    That’s “lying down” not “laying down.”

  • Chicken Fingers

    Those skateboarding obstacles are just begging skaters to come up with new tricks. And I can’t wait to see them.

  • psychomotikon

    The history of architecture runs with these sorts of intentions, both overt and subtle.

  • Jeffrey Turner

    What’s going to happen when some little kid on a tricycle or someone’s 90 year old grandma falls and gets impaled on those spikes?

  • Liz897

    i do not think that the writer of this article was informed enough to create an actual, compelling argument on the subject. This article is lacking a whole other dimension… Its title refers to architecture, yet does this writer know anything on the impact of skateboarders, pigeons, etc. on buildings and their integrity? There is a great lack of any talk of the logic behind such measures. It is so much more about causation than is discussed in this article. All I read is a spewing of facts gathered from other articles…

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