All Technology is Assistive Technology

Wearable workarounds for "defensive architecture"

Artist and researcher Sarah Ross's Archisuits are a hilarious and pointed look at soft bodies in hard spaces—all the ways the built environment is a mismatch for human needs.

Advertisement

At times, the ill fits seem matter-of-fact: just a look at the negative volumes of space that indicate various built surfaces that are more or less amenable to human support. Housed in these comically augmented jogging suits, they seem like just soft wearable sculpture—conceptual abstractions about bodies in public.

But if you look at these in aggregate, and pay close attention to their settings, you'll see what Ross is shrewdly highlighting: defensive architectures, like these bench designs you'll see all over a city like Los Angeles:

Advertisement

These are benches designed to discourage sleeping, pausing, leisure. Seen next to this one, the other models reveal similar structures made to evade human contact of all kinds—a subtle set of tools likely designed to address homelessness in a city like LA.

Once you start going down this rabbit hole, you get a big genre of defense built into and around cities. Artist and architect Nils Norman has a whole archive collecting this stuff:

Advertisement

That's an anti-urination structure, in Utrecht, the Netherlands. And below is a barrier built to deter prostitutes from lingering in a doorway in Madrid:

Advertisement

You can see defensive structures that are anti-climb, anti-graffiti, anti-litter in the archive, along with these familiar architectural edits, designed to keep skateboarders at bay:

Advertisement

Which brings me back to Archisuits: Whose bodies are welcome in cities, and why?

Advertisement

More at Sarah Ross's web site, and Nils Norman's archive. Read about Abler at Gizmodo here.

Advertisement

Images: Four people wear pale blue, soft knit jogging suits, with soft geometric forms attached to their backs. Each form fits precisely over a designated architectural site, making it possible for a person to perch or sit at that site—a place that had been formerly inaccessible. One makes a inclined wall sit-able; one makes a rounded bench into a usable perch; and one makes a bench broken up by seat divisions into one long surface for reclining. Utrecht anti-urination image: a small metal pipe and a flat inclined metal surface fits precisely into a corner, making it a splashy, messy choice for elimination. In Madrid, a long, narrow strip of metal with angular folds makes a doorway impossible to stand in. In England, a low concrete wall has its surface broken by looped metal rings placed every few feet, deterring skateboarders from its slope.

Share This Story