Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation

Hostile architecture

Rivista Africa 19.11.2022 Federico Monica Translated by: Jpic-jp.org

The violence, the hostile attitude to any choice that speaks of 'welcome' is revealed in the many details: ‘in the details lies the devil’ says a North American proverb. A friend told me: it was one o'clock in the morning when we arrived in Duala (Cameroon); everything was closed and we could not even leave the airport; in the waiting room the seats were all curved and it was impossible to lie down on them; we had to make do with the floor.

Even in African cities, examples of hostile architecture are becoming increasingly common: elements of street furniture are specifically designed to prevent people from sitting, lying down or trading in certain areas of the city. The victims, in Africa as in Italy [and other parts of the world], are almost always people who are already in difficulty, in an attempt to hide poverty instead of tackling it structurally.

An endless carpet of large pointed stones, standing side by side, occupies the entire roadside space under an overpass not far from Accra airport. The effect is curious, somewhere between an open-air archaeological museum and a contemporary art installation.

“They put them there so no one can sit or lie down to sleep,” explains Moses, my loquacious taxi driver who loves Italy and its football. “They did the right thing: it's bad for foreigners or tourists to see these things,” he adds with conviction.

This is a classic example of so-called 'hostile architecture': architectural or street furniture elements designed to prevent accessibility or certain activities in specific places. European and even Italian cities are full of them. The most widespread example is certainly that of benches interspersed with fixed armrests, whose function is of course not to improve ergonomics but to prevent, mainly for the homeless, from lying down. Then there are metal railings, spikes or studs increasingly installed in front of shop and bank windows, under arcades or in bus shelters.

The declared aim is to maintain a so-called 'urban decorum', an ambiguous concept that seems to look more at appearance than substance, aiming at hiding or removing situations of decay rather than addressing their root causes in order to solve them.

For some time now, even in many African cities such as Accra, examples of hostile architecture have been spreading like wildfire. Not that this is entirely new: barriers around monuments or lush traffic islands in central areas have been present for decades in metropolises such as Nairobi, Lagos or Kinshasa, but the progressive increase in social inequalities also brings with it these solutions, in an attempt to keep ever larger portions of the city 'decent'.

The areas around airports and the roads most frequented by tourists and foreign visitors, as well as the pavements of the most exclusive neighbourhoods and the areas surrounding shopping centres, are the parts of cities where barriers, bollards or even simply uniformed guards prevent anyone from stopping, sitting, playing or trading. The pavements must remain empty and clean, recreating a sweetened and aseptic idea of the city that clashes with what often happens a few metres away.

In our historical centres, sharp stones give way to imperceptible, almost design elements: objects that to the untrained eye may seem harmless decorations, but which are often purposely designed and placed to obstruct certain actions, often paradoxically affecting precisely those who are already in serious difficulty, such as the homeless in search of a dry, safe shelter.

An old story that tends to repeat itself, in Italy as in large African cities. Poverty, instead of being addressed, is hidden, forced to move somewhere else, possibly far from tourists’ eyes and from neighbourhoods that are as 'decent' as they are repulsive.

A few evenings later, Accra was enveloped in light but persistent rain. Passing again under the same flyover, I noticed strange movements: a small group of people have placed wooden planks recovered who knows where on the sharp stones: someone was sitting and chatting, someone else was trying to sleep in that dry corner raised above the ground. The grey of the stones illuminated by neon street lamps was lit up by flashes of the colour of clothes hanging out to dry, everything suddenly seemed more alive, perhaps more beautiful, certainly more human. Even Moses laughed amusedly, shaking his head: "Woo, these people!".

The art of making do overcomes everything, even hostile architecture, and the ability to transform and make the most of places and situations is one of the elements that still makes African cities so vital, dynamic and interesting. In spite of decorum and of the tourists’ gaze.

See, Architettura ostil

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