# POLITICS /// Cruel design

# POLITICS /// Cruel designJanuary 27, 2011

Architecture & Design - By: Léopold Lambert

If you live in Harlem, you may be familiar with this series of pieces of design on Lexington Avenue and 124th street in New York. Designed in smooth forms and placed over the exhaust grids of the subway station, those benches could have been a great idea to provide homeless people with a place to sleep on, the exhaust locally providing some heat which can be life saving in cold winters. Instead of that, the designer of those benches venally accepted what was probably a demand from the local authorities or the MTA subway company: a design solution to prevent homeless people to lay on them. Those pieces of design being composed by metallic slices, it was easy for the author to break their smoothness and create excrescences that thus create a sufficiently uncomfortable condition for nobody to be tempted to sleep on them.

Design whether it is “industrial” or “building”, acts on the bodies and can choose to comfort them, challenge them (to go beyond I propose the essay I wrote about Spinozist architectures) or to hurt them in a more or less assumed sadistic expression. Those benches are clearly being part of this third proposition and their author is just as much (if not more) responsible for their effect than the authority which commissioned it.



If you are not familiar with Australian Architect Sean Godsell he actively engages in projects that contribute to the complex social phenomena within the built environment. He states that “indeed a measure of the sophistication of a society is in how well it treats its underprivileged.” Check out his Park bench house, Picnic Table House, Bus Shelter House and also his Future Shack, a more positive, responsive solution for the homeless. However the question still remains as to whether or not the government implements such strategies. http://www.seangodsell.com/park-bench-house

Léopold Lambert

Thank you, it’s interesting indeed. Nevertheless only few designers (like Santiago Cirugeda) address the problem of how those pieces of design can be implemented in public space with or without the authorization of the Authority.


This work remeber me to another: Anti_sites by Survival Group
If you don’t know it you can see here: http://www.survivalgroup.org/anti-site.html


I assumed as much as well, and while I think they’re a missed opportunity to make the streetscape more comfortable, they don’t appeal to have been designed explicitly to repel homeless people…. http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/housingcomplex/2011/01/03/street-furniture-and-off-base-expectations/

Léopold Lambert

Lydia, thank you for your message. I learned by your article that those are not benches but grids to avoid floods. Nevertheless the fact that their primary function is not to repel homeless people (I was not even thinking of that) does not change a single thing to the problem. It is almost worst because it is symptomatic of our society. The architect says “Aesthetic, because I personally care strongly about urban design and I think we have a responsibility, as stewards of so much public space, to create a public environment that is attractive to our citizens. Then, from a pragmatic standpoint, it obviously makes a huge difference if you create street furniture that the public likes as opposed to street furniture that the public wouldn’t want to see in front of their commercial establishment or their house. It’s a combination of the two. I also think our own employees feel better about it, too.” This person is convinced that he did a good job and probably felt bad for ten minutes when he asked his underpayed intern to design for him the excrescences. He could almost add to his self-compleasant discourse that homeless people would also “disturb the aesthetic of the public space.” Everything is made for us not to ask the real question: Is it humane that the (a)social status of homeless still exists nowadays ?

andrea bandoni

check it out:
cool to see people researching and talking about this problem.

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