Hostile design and social control

 Hostile design and social control

Everywhere you go, you’re being manipulated. Sound paranoid? Well, it’s true.

We like to talk about design, planning and landscape architecture that enhances the aesthetics of a place while encouraging the flow of human activity in a gentle fashion to achieve greater connectivity, efficiency and sustainability. Attractive forest trails and bike paths keep people moving, for instance. Urban green spaces invite people to congregate in a particular area, while keeping other spaces clear of traffic.

All design is a direct way to communicate with people and manipulate them to some degree. There’s one kind of design that says “Stop!” and “Go away!” It’s not the kind of stuff we deal in, but it’s important to know it when we see it. When we become more astute observers of our environment, we can recognize “hostile architecture” as a tool for social control. That’s why Gordan Savičić and Selena Savić put together the book called “Unpleasant Design,” which will be released as a digital-only second edition on July 29.

The authors define the phenomenon this way: “Unpleasant design is a global fashion with many examples to be found across cities worldwide, manifested in the form of ‘silent agents’ that take care of behaviour in public space, without the explicit presence of authorities.” A most severe example of unpleasant design would be metal spikes installed outside businesses to discourage homeless people from lying down.

But the elements can be more subtle, and largely unrecognized for their purpose to the casual observer. They can be physical, but don’t have to be. Yellow light in bus stations make it harder for IV drug users to see a vein. Chinese businesses use the melodious air of a Kenny G tune to tell people to go home. Park benches can be designed with anti-skateboard features.

Look around. How much of the design you see says “Go ahead,” “Enjoy” and “This way?” How much of it says “Don’t even think about, pal?” Read “Unpleasant Design,” and you’ll see how many”silent agents” are really talking.

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