The debate over hostile architecture: Queen’s Wharf development

hostile architecture

The debate over hostile architecture: Queen’s Wharf development

Brisbane’s Queen’s Wharf is being promoted as an urban playground, but one critic says developers will use forms of “hostile architecture” to keep marginalised groups away.

The Queensland government gave the controversial Queen’s Wharf casino resort its seal of approval late last year.

Once completed, the $3 billion dollar Brisbane development will sit on 12-hectares of government-owned land on the riverfront.

The “integrated resort” will feature:

  • A casino
  • Five hotels
  • 50 bars
  • Restaurants
  • Retail spaces
  • 2000 apartments

Visitors will enjoy an impressive 12 footballs fields worth of public space dedicated to festivals, cycling and other community activities. As such, the complex has been described as an “urban playground” by developers.

But not everyone is convinced this will be a welcoming space. Greens councillor Jonathan Sri says the Queen’s Wharf development report signals that hostile architecture will keep homeless people away.

“Buried down on page eight of the report was a recommendation that the design of public space infrastructure includes elements to discourage anti-social behaviour – and they specifically mention armrests on public benches to discourage people from sleeping on them,” Jonathan Sri told ArchitectureAU.

“That says quite clearly that the developer, and by extension the government that approved this project, have an active interest in discouraging poor or homeless people from using these public spaces.”

Cr Jonathan Sri says that hostile architecture is popping up in other parts of Brisbane and Australia.

defensive architecture

What is hostile architecture (also called “defensive architecture”)?

Chairs at train stations with arm rests to prevent people from lying down.

Sloped benches with spikes all over them.

Strategically placed sprinklers that make it impossible to linger without getting soaked.

Hostile architecture is designed to stop people using public spaces in “undesirable” ways. This could be anything from sleeping on benches to finding creative surfaces to skate off. The idea is to keep anti-social behaviour at bay.

This controversial city design trend has attracted both critics and supporters, from around the globe.

Many are angry that marginalised groups are being pushed to the fringes of society. Architect James Furzer tries to combat this with his designs. He told CNN that hostile architecture drives people and nature out of cities.

“Is it really a bad thing that you’re encouraging people to hang around those spaces? Is that not what architecture and design are about? If we designed a building where people didn’t want to stay for too long, because it’s hostile and uncomfortable, have we succeeded in our jobs as architects? I don’t think so.”
James Furzer

On the other hand, supporters of hostile architecture say that public safety comes first. They prefer to call it defensive architecture. Dean Harvey is the co-founder of a company that produces such furniture. He says defensive architecture provides a solution against drug drops, by minimising the time people spend in an area.

“When we design a piece of furniture, we’re not thinking about it being antisocial — we’re thinking about that piece being used as a piece of furniture in the public realm, rather than as a skating pit, or for grinding an object, or as a hangout (area),” Mr Harvey told CNN.

Queen's Wharf development

Queen’s Wharf development – no stranger to controversy…

Hostile architecture isn’t the only concern, when it comes to the Queen’s Wharf construction site.

There’s been a mixed response to the development so far. Various organisations worry about its potential to dwarf the historic fabric of the area, due to its massive size. This multi-billion dollar project could be Queensland’s largest private sector development, spanning almost 20 percent of the city centre.

There are also concerns that nearby government business could be overshadowed.

In 2015, the Queensland chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects, the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects and the Urban Design Alliance submitted a critical statement.

“First, why here? This is the state’s historic heart with traditional streetscapes and buildings of national significance. In built form it tells the story of Queensland’s government – its aspirations and its failures as the seat of serious business. Yet now, such business is to be carried out in a ‘casino resort’ with its additional 7000 cars. Is that appropriate?”

Regardless of dissent, the integrated resort development is earmarked to open in 2022.

In recent weeks, some of the first electrical cables installed in Brisbane were removed from the Queen’s Wharf construction site, to prepare for building works. Excavation will take place this year, to remove around 600 000m3 of soil.

Watch this space for future developments!