A humble bench in Calgary, Canada triggered a social media storm earlier this week.
Isaac Azuelos posted a snap of the seating decorated with the colours of the rainbow flag – a worldwide symbol of LGBT pride – but the only problem? The bench also featured the kind of bars that sparked fury for excluding rough sleepers in Bournemouth earlier this year.
When you’re inclusive but still hate the poor. pic.twitter.com/WB1kTuxXkb
— Isaac Azuelos (@isaacazuelos) May 12, 2018
The tweet racked up more than 31,000 retweets and 114,000 likes in the space of four days and provoked a response from the people behind the bench, pop-up art collective containR. The group pointed out that the bench was “a donation to our non-profit by city workers, specifically for an elder patron who walks by every day” and insisted that their intention was not to “institute or uphold the principles of hostile or exclusionary design”.
The space reached out to me with some more information about the bench. pic.twitter.com/ICg3r2ANro
— Isaac Azuelos (@isaacazuelos) May 13, 2018
Nevertheless, artist Stuart Semple found the seating a “shocking” example of hostile design. And he would know. Stuart was behind the campaign that rallied against identical bars that were placed on benches in Bournemouth earlier this year, eventually forcing the town’s council to remove them.
“I actually couldn’t believe someone had made a bench like that,” Stuart told The Big Issue. “I was pretty shocked because it is so contradictory in the message that it is trying to get across.
The Big Issue magazine is read by an estimated 379,195 people across the UK and circulates 82,294 copies every week.
“The reaction has been very interesting because it is much more of a US response to this as opposed to the British reaction that we got from the Bournemouth campaign. I’ve noticed that there are a lot more prejudices towards homeless people in America than there are in the UK. I’ve been quite appalled from the responses I’ve seen actually.”
But the storm has inspired a rush of conversation around hostile designs – something that Stuart has been promoting since the start of the year.
The artist launched hostiledesign.org in a bid to shut down “designs against humanity” across the globe and even created his own pay-what-you-want ‘Design Crime’ stickers to let activists point out the worst offenders.
“It is fantastic what this incident has done because it really sparked the debate and taken it up a notch to a different grade and that’s made it something that people are talking about and discussing,” he added.
“The campaign is going really well and we distributed a lot of stickers. Already we have had some good news with it – we have had spikes removed from flowers in Mumbai and also success in Toronto.
“It seems to have given people the courage to speak up about hostile designs and the internet and social media gives them a viable way to speak about it.”