Hostile Architects Anyone?

Several months ago I was quickly scanning through me newsfeed app and saw something from the NY Times about hostile architects. I thought OH MY GOD, an article about my wife – she is hostile at times and is an architect. I clicked on the article expecting some links to support groups but instead it was about hostile ARCHITECTURE…my mind was blown, because I didn’t even know hostile architecure was a thing. I was planning to write something about that article but then it slipped my mind and then COVID-19 happened.

Now is a great time to revisit that topic. According to Wikipedia, hostile architecture is “the intentional design strategy that uses elements of the built environment to guide or restrict behaviour in urban space”. The picture below is a park bench and to deter people from sleeping on it, they put hand rails along the bench…that’s hostile architecture. Personally I feel it should be called hostile design but who is going to argue with an architect about semantics…not I.

After reading that NY Times article one of the first things that popped in my head was how badly designed public toilets are, with all their “touch points” for germs. In this post COVID-19 world, this is now a major concern and so much potential for better designs. Of course as a technology person, my first preference is to throw a bunch of technology at the problem. Proximity sensors for the doors, self-flushing toilets, auto sensing soap dispensers, etc… and that’s the problem.

Technology is not the only answer, a better design that thinks through how people use the bathroom facilities is the right approach and using the hostile architecture approach of “using elements of the built environment to guide or restrict behaviour” in a healthier way. I feel this is the beginning of “healthy architecture” and will be the new normal. Technically, this way of thinking should have been there from the beginning but I suspect it will now be front and center when designing new spaces.

Back to the public facilities example, instead of having a single entry and exit have a separate entry and exit so the flow of people is in a single direction, no doors to the facility so you don’t need to use your hands to push/pull the door. Another example, the door to the bathroom stall should be operated via a foot pedal not a door handle. It goes beyond the bathroom and more todo with the public spaces, what about touching elevator buttons and handrails?

Over the past month, I’ve been listening to several of my wife’s architecture/design conference calls discussing what is going to happen post COVID-19. Most of them are like many other industry calls, no one really knows how things will unfold and it’s just a way for people to feel connected to their fraternity. In this spirit of germ-free architecture, I wonder if architects would work together to come up with a set of reference designs that people can use at no or low cost. It’s similar to the technology industry and their use of open-source software to build some of the biggest names on the internet like Facebook, Google, Amazon, etc…. In fact, I envision it would be something similar to Opendesk. Opendesk is where furniture designers share designs and then those designs get executed locally. This would benefit many people and allow the best designs to be implemented.

I believe every industry will have to think differently post COVID-19 and what worked just 2 months ago will most likely need to change to survive to this new normal.

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