If you were casually strolling through London, England, you may not even notice the new type of architecture that has many people enraged. Tucked away under building awnings, below bridges, and in other inconspicuous places that might offer a slight amount of comfort to the city's homeless, defensive or disciplinary architecture is being installed. This isn't all that unusual in major metropolitan areas across the globe, appearing in cities as varied as Tokyo, Hamburg, and New York. Regardless of the city, the message is always the same: these spaces are hostile, and they were designed specifically to exclude and exile the homeless. 
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London-based filmmaker, artist, and journalist Leah Borromeo and a few of her friends were enraged when spikes went up around London to prevent the homeless from being able to sleep in public spaces. Borromeo sees these spikes as a tangible and infuriating representation of the inequity of private/public space; to her, these spikes ironically say, "keep out!" the very people these spaces belong to. If the public cannot use public space, then who does public space truly belong to? 

Borromeo and a few collaborators decided to fight back by reclaiming one of these public spaces on Curtain Road, chosen because of its resonance with London's artist community - studios just down the street are known to have been called home and work space by many artists who couldn't afford to live or work elsewhere. Borromeo reminisces on her Tumblr page about the night club that used to inhabit the Curtain Road space and the Vietnamese restaurant that "vibrated on weekends" on the floor above. "Now," she simply says, "We just have spikes."

Borromeo's statement is a nod to the way that acts of social cleansing in cities not only displace the downtrodden and marginalized, but erase part of the culture of a place. Borromeo is reflecting on the character of a neighborhood that has been changed because of the implementation of regulations to preserve idealized notions of cleanliness and safety by city officials. What remains is now an environment that welcomes no one and tells all to stay out; what was once an artists' community with character is now defiled by its inability to make room for the least of its people. 

To make the spiked area welcoming once more, Borromeo and a few collaborators brought a small mattress to the Curtain Road location on July 17, 2015, and shoved it over the spikes in clear defiance of their purpose. She and her collaborators want to send a clear message that homeless people are not just vermin to be chased away. As Borromeo states on the project's Tumblr page: "Living in a city...We’re told where we can walk, where we can sit, where we are welcome but only if we spend money. Or have it. It makes us neurotic and engenders a deep sense of ‘otherness’ in anyone who chooses to or simply cannot buy in to what currently passes for society and leisure." 

Beside the mattress is a small bookshelf, fixed in place, with a few books/texts provided by Borromeo and her collaborators. Each text was chosen intentionally, addressing issues around poverty, public space, architecture, class structure, and other topics pertaining specifically to the issue of defensive architecture. Seeing titles on the bookshelf like 'Getting By: Estates, Class and Culture In Austerity Britain' by Lisa McKenzie or 'Art and Gentrification: Pursuing the Urban Pastoral in Hoxton, London' by Andrew Harris makes it quite clear that these texts are an assault on the city's anti-homeless attitudes. They were placed here to provide alternative context on the social issues surrounding the city's defensive architecture. 

The most heinous part about the implementation of defensive architecture is the unmistakable aggressive nature of its intent. Alex Andreou wrote an article for The Guardian entitled Anti-homeless spikes: ‘Sleeping rough opened my eyes to the city’s barbed cruelty’ in which he explained his first-hand account of being homeless and interacting with this kind of architecture. He explains that a series of bad circumstance landed him on the streets after having made a six-figure salary; he wants to make it very clear that homelessness can affect just about anyone. He says, "...[defensive architecture] is not the product of accident or thoughtlessness, but a thought process. It is a sort of unkindness that is considered, designed, approved, funded and made real with the explicit motive to exclude and harass. It reveals how corporate hygiene has overridden human considerations..." and in this one statement, he has perfectly illuminated the problem. 

Defensive architecture focuses on aesthetics, seeming to say, "If the city looks clean and safe, then we have no problems." Activists like Borromeo are fighting back from a standpoint that focuses on humanitarian thinking and compassion. Borromeo's efforts are begging us to ask ourselves how we can shove the marginalized members of our society under a rug and not realize the horrible implications this creates about the quality of our society. What about our homeless veterans? What about those who have mental illness? Are we really going to fill their only "beds" with hard, metal spikes because we don't like seeing them sleep in public places? If society as a whole doesn't care for the homeless, who will? 

Borromeo is using her project to remind us all that those who are being chased out by the spikes are still human beings who have basic needs just like we do and that they don't deserve to be treated like sub-human scum just because they need a place to sleep. By reclaiming these hostile public spaces and subverting the defensive architecture, Borromeo is returning public space to those she sees as its rightful owners: the public.