Exposed bus shelter seats a grand design or ‘hostile architecture’?

Grand design to prevent “passenger entrapment” or a plan to discourage rough sleepers?

They are questions surrounding the upgrade to Wellington’s bus interchange, which is attracting criticism for the placement new seating outside sheltered area.

The $4m​ project, featuring a bold blue, yellow and orange colour scheme, has sparked debate online – most of it uncomplimentary. Examples include: “Why the flip are the seats hanging out there so exposed to the elements?” And: “Great, now when it’s raining I can sit down and get protected by the sky.”

More seriously, it has been labelled “hostile architecture”, used in built environments to address anti-social behaviour.

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One commuter, who asked to remain anonymous, has taken particular issue with the lack of thought for the elderly, families and those with mobility issues

A new design benchmark or a deterrent to the homeless?

BRUCE MACKAY/Stuff

A new design benchmark or a deterrent to the homeless?

Old seats have been removed and replaced by slatted benches, of various lengths and there was limited shelter– “and I do mean limited, much of that is in walkways” – under the glass canopies.

According to Metlink, the interchange and Wellington Railway Station connect “tens of thousands of rail and bus users with work, education, shopping and appointments in Wellington city daily”.

The design and layout involved multiple stakeholders, including Wellington City Council and Greater Wellington officers, as well as the disability sector, Metlink General Manager Samantha Gain said. Wellington-based architecture firm Isthmus Group and engineering company Stantec New Zealand also provided input.

Anti-skateboarding devices on seating in Lombard St, Wellington.

Stuff

Anti-skateboarding devices on seating in Lombard St, Wellington.

The large open-plan space gave people room to walk through the interchange without impeding those boarding and disembarking from buses, she said.

Our commuter, who, along with dozens of students, is a regular on the Mairangi service through to Victoria University and Wadestown, wasn’t buying it.

The interchange was a perfect example of hostile architecture, he said.

“The entire area is designed to discourage rough sleepers.”

The handrail at the National Library in Wellington has been designed to prevent riding or sliding down it.

Stuff

The handrail at the National Library in Wellington has been designed to prevent riding or sliding down it.

However, Gain said preventing or discouraging anyone from using the seating or canopy shelters had not been considered, although Wellington’s fickle weather and the safety of commuters had been.

“For shelter-type structures a balance must be struck between complete weather tightness and safety. Within an enclosed structure, there is a possibility of passenger entrapment.

“Commuters can choose to wait for buses inside the main interchange atrium building, in the event of inclement weather. ”

JASON DORDAY/stuff.co.nz

Researchers say skateboarders are able to practice more freedom and creativity because they are separated from sideline behaviour associated with team sports. (Video first published in September 2015).

Hostile, or defensive, architecture (which includes street furniture) is not a new concept. It can range from the subtle and deceivingly effective tiny metal rounds or L-shaped insets on street furniture to deter skateboarding, such as those on seats in Lombard St, to the glaringly obvious – dividers on benches to prevent lying down. Such tactics were used in Nelson on a bench outside the Provincial Museum, which had been used by a homeless man.

A sign by the handrail at the National Library in Wellington’s Molesworth St offers a warning to would-be miscreants. “Do not use this handrail to ride or slide down. It is constructed to prevent such use,” it informs in capital letters.

In 2014, the installation of metal studs outside a block of upmarket London flats provoked widespread condemnation with claims homeless people were being treated like vermin because similar metal spikes are used to deter pigeons. Luxury department store Selfridges was also criticised for placing spikes outside its Manchester branch to discourage “litter” and “smokers”.

Metal frames installed outside the Nelson Provincial Museum in Hardy St, to prevent people from sleeping on the seats.

MARTIN DE RUYTER/Stuff

Metal frames installed outside the Nelson Provincial Museum in Hardy St, to prevent people from sleeping on the seats.

Architect and urban designer Stuart Niven, who has worked both here and overseas, said good public space was designed to improve some aspect of daily life. It wasn’t always a given.

“Anybody who has ever encountered a public bench with an artfully placed up-right fin positioned half-way along the bench knows that this is not some piece of artful, aesthetic playfulness but in fact a cold, calculated and ungenerous (but probably very effective) way to prevent it ever being some poor, homeless soul’s bed for the night,” he said.

“Street canopies that seem to redirect water on to those who seek their shelter, public seats that are too narrow or seem fundamentally ignorant of a person’s physiology, bus shelters that don’t actually shelter you begin to get a sense that somebody somewhere either doesn’t like you – or worse, just doesn’t give a damn.”

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