Architectural Exclusion and the Effects of the Built Environment

In part one of her article “Architectural Exclusion: Discrimination and Segregation through Physical Design of the Built Environment,” Sarah Schindler argues that the built environment dictates behavior by regulating the daily lives of individuals in a given community. Schindler provides everyday examples of architectural exclusion and describes the harmful effects of these design decisions.

Benches like this one are divided to prevent homeless people from sleeping on them.

Benches like this one are divided to prevent homeless people from sleeping on them.

Common architectural features can be used to exclude a specific individual or even a group of people. Features such as bridges, walls, benches, and even sidewalks often have a hidden meaning. A divided park bench is an example of this concept. Schindler argues that many people look at a divided bench and assume the design is an aesthetic choice; but in reality, the dividers are a preventive measure setup to stop homeless people from lying down to sleep.

While exclusion due to the built environment is common, many consequences of these architectural choices are overlooked. These features are so built into the community that citizens walk by them everyday without fully understanding their consequences. Schindler states that while architectural exclusion may be overlooked, it is a real and present form of regulation in our communities. She argues that architects have the power to restrict behavior by preventing an individual from traveling to a certain area of town, or by making it difficult to maneuver between locations. The built environment makes it possible for low bridges, walls, and the placement of transit stops to restrict the behavior of a community. Schindler argues that decisions made by architects and urban planners, “create architectural constraints: features of the built environment that function to control human behavior or hinder access” (1948). These decisions are instrumental in bringing about architectural exclusion.

In June 2016 a huge debate took place among residents of a Northwest DC neighborhood called Hawthorne. Some residents believed the neighborhood would be safer with sidewalks, and some believed sidewalks would take from their community.

In June 2016 a huge debate took place among residents of a Northwest DC neighborhood called Hawthorne. Some residents believed the neighborhood would be safer with sidewalks, and some believed sidewalks would take from their community.

While architects acknowledge that their decisions can be beneficial for some and crippling for others, nothing is done to change this and legal action is never taken. Schindler states that architects have to power to create spaces that exclude individuals based on race, gender, and socioeconomic standing. Although architects and city planners admit that they are cable of this, legal scholars are just becoming aware of these concepts. Schindler emphasizes that architectural regulation should be “subject to scrutiny that is equal to that afforded to other methods of exclusion by law” (1953). She proposes a question: why are so many other forms of exclusion addressed by lawmakers while architectural exclusion is ignored? Schindler argues that architectural exclusion should be viewed as a civil rights issue because it has the ability to discriminate against an entire race, gender, or socioeconomic class. While regulation caused by the built environment is less known by the legal system and the general public, Schindler urges lawmakers and judges to give these issues their consideration.

Schindler uses part one of her article to argue the exclusionary effects of architecture and the built environment. The behavior of an individual can be regulated by the architectural features of their environment. The location of transit stops, the presence of sidewalks, low bridges, and wall are examples of architectural features that can be used regulate and dictate behavior. Schindler urges legal scholars to take notice of these concepts because she believes they are civil rights issues that need to be addressed.


Works Cited

Schindler, Sarah. “Architectural Exclusion: Discrimination and Segregation through Physical Design of the Built Environment.” The Yale Journal, vol. 125, no. 6, April 2015, pp. 1934-1953.

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Grace Wilmeth

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