Hostile Architecture

A Physical Embodiment of Hatred for the Unhoused

By Keza Uwitonze, University of Manitoba, Faculty of Law Student

Hostile architecture has been described as “existing infrastructure [that has been] modified so that it becomes impossible to use it in the same way as before.”[1] And perhaps you’ve seen some examples out in the world without even realizing their purpose; for example, an armrest in the middle of a bench, in addition to the ends, acting as a divider. Or maybe you’ve seen spikes strategically placed along sets of stairs to discourage anyone from sleeping on them. Some places might even forego the addition of public seating to prevent the thought from occurring.

Perhaps governments around the world see the economic value of investing in anti-homeless architecture because it provides a simpler solution to the presence of the unhoused in everyday life. Instead of providing resources to make housing an equal right for all citizens, they could authorize a few dividers on bus shelter benches to create a “safer place” for the housed. It’s equally likely that those same governments have realized that they don’t have the funding to end homelessness in its entirety and have decided to avoid the reality of that problem with the use of hostile architecture. We might never truly know the reasons for the existence of hostile architecture but we can see that its presence adds to the difficulty that the unhoused community faces daily.

This difficulty often extends to the disabled community. There is a tendency to view disability in terms of visual cues, based on preconceived notions and biases which plague our everyday language. But for those who suffer invisible disabilities, such as chronic fatigue for example, a public place with no seating creates a greater issue about the way society cares for its marginalized members. We can extend the hurt to both children and the elderly in this scenario, as both groups are some of the most vulnerable members of society and denying them adequate seating denies them the comfort of existing in society as well.

With this in mind, the notion that hostile architecture creates obstacles for all members of society is a present thought. Everyone loses the ability to enjoy public spaces when the architecture is designed to be as unwelcoming as possible and communities lose their sense of togetherness when residents are physically prevented from making connections or feeling at ease in their surroundings. Hostile structures are a hindrance to a more comfortable life and although this comfort is not traditionally seen as an access to justice issue, the architecture denies unhoused people the joy of existing in community with others. It is not simply an access to justice issue, but access to life, connection, and relief. And there is justice in fighting for the rights of the unhoused to live in society. 

[1] Ezequiel Indriago Perez, “The Forbidden Existence: Anti-Homeless Architecture and the Regulation of Public Spaces,” (17 December 2021), online: Apollon Online EJournal <,is%20widespread%20across%20Canadian%20cities.> [].

The views expressed in these blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Faculty of Law at the University of Manitoba and should not be construed as legal advice or endorsement.

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