THE BLOG

Design Out of Reach: The Best Way to Shoo Homeless People Away

06/22/2014 01:29 pm ET | Updated Aug 22, 2014

When I was in architecture school, the design projects to which we were assigned typically related to creating spaces or products that were to benefit people. In our intensive workshops, we designed imaginary public open spaces, furniture made out of recycled material, and housing for the poor built from local material.

Just walk into any Design Within Reach store to experience modern, people-friendly residential products created by top designers. For those of us who were budding designers, having our designs in such a store would have been the epitome of success.

Imagine, however, if the school had a class on how to design public space that would drive homeless people away? Although, such classes might seem to be bizarre, such design is actually occurring in public spaces.

In London, metal spikes have been designed into the ground in front of an apartment building so people (i.e., homeless people) cannot sleep there. They're called "homeless spikes." In Montreal, similar spikes were installed outside of a bookstore.

Public spaces have benches that have armrests at every seat. Although they may appear to be designed for the benefit of the public's comfort, in reality they are designed so that people (i.e., homeless people) cannot lie down and sleep on them.

In Japan, these public benches are designed so that the benches are actually uncomfortable. Yes, uncomfortable. No one will want to sit or sleep on them for a long period of time.

I could only imagine an architectural class created specifically to shoo way people who are homeless. You may have heard of smart houses, where lights, air conditioning, stereos, and even coffee machines are controlled by smart phones.

So, how about a "smart public space" where homeless people are driven away by new technology? Metal spikes are integrated into concrete sidewalks and plazas, so if people lie down on them the spikes automatically pop out. Public furniture is designed to topple people off if someone lies down on it for longer than 15 minutes.

Sensors are installed so that if someone lies down within the space, blinding lights wake people up and alarms go off. And sprinklers are designed to water both landscaping as well as sidewalks when people are sitting or sleeping too long.

Sounds like a perfect curriculum for budding designers of public space. Maybe such ideas could be part of the technology for smart houses as well?

Of course, it might be easier to simply design enough affordable housing so that every person does not have to sleep in public spaces, but in their own private homes.

Now that would be the best smart house technology of the day.