Unfriendly Treehouse“Unfriendly Treehouse” is a satirical visual juxtaposition of what refuge could
mean to each of us. From afar, it appears to be an inviting and whimsical treehouse that someone could have built for their child. But a closer inspection of the interior reveals a different story. The walls and
ceilings feature elements that at first, could appear to be playful, but actually
examples of “defensive design,” a design technique that is employed to prevent people – in particular, those experiencing homelessness – from using public spaces to rest, sleep or find refuge.Defensive design can take many forms:
spikes or knobs on a cement sidewalk; obstructions on top of a metal grate;
arm rests on benches; constant bright lighting in alcoves; sprinklers turned on
at odd hours; video cameras; to name a few. Unfriendly Treehouse prompts
the viewer to ask, “Who do we design for and why?” This design approach not
only amplifies the challenges that the homeless population faces, but it reinforces a broader unwillingness to meaningfully address the homelessness crisis
and the issue of affordable housing in our city.
with Mike Yam
The levity in this proposal serves as
satire only, to shed light on the serious
issue of the city’s homelessness crisis. In
the days of COVID-19, Torontonians
have been forced to re-examine the
importance of public space. For some-
one without a home, refuge can take
many forms, even if it is temporary.
However, the widespread use of defensive design has removed so many of
these places and only serves to com-
pound the challenges faced by people
experiencing homelessness. We must
redefine our urban spaces to be more
inclusive and challenge the images that
the stewards of our public and private
spaces want to create for this city.We should not de-humanize people by intentionally designing our spaces
to push them out of sight, nor should
these designs covertly reinforce larger
systemic issues related to economic and
social inequity. This design also questions the now annual public art project, the Winterstations Competition, asking the question... who are they for? And urging the visitors to look inwards, then outwards.
A submission for the Winterstations Competition, for which the theme was “refuge”. We’re not sure why the jury members didn’t pick this as one of the winning designs, especially John Tory.