Toilet-less condos, London tube slide fails, and defensive designs

3 min readJan 31, 2022

When you prepare yourself from damages, you’re said to be defensive. When you prepare your creation against misuses/abuses, you’re said to be designing defensively.

Hostile v.s. non-hostile

Defensive designs can be either hostile or non-hostile.

A major category in hostile designs is architecture. The most prominent example is perhaps anti-homeless measures. To prevent homeless people from sleeping in certain area:

Armrests prevent good dreams. Photo by Timur Weber from Pexels.
  • Bike racks have been installed on sidewalks. These installations benefit bikers like me, so I’m actually glad to see them.
  • Rocks have been placed on road verges to prevent camping. They are fun for little kids to climb up and down, so I’ll give them a go, too.
  • Benches have been split into separate seats.
  • Seats have been replaced with lean-on bars.
  • Spikes have been installed outside of roofed shopwindows.
  • … and more
Photo by Anthony Tyrrell on Unsplash

Don’t feel ashamed for not having noticed — Defensive designs should be invisible to intended users. Think escalator anti-slide knobs: Only those who feel an impulse to slide down will notice them (and they will). Normal passengers of the escalators will never.

You’re not ignorant; you are just behaving well.

Hostility aren’t mandatory

Many hostile designs can actually be replaced with non-hostile alternatives. For example, to deter skaters from grinding down your bench, instead of adding fixed protrusions to the surface, you can perhaps use a fictitious material. Rubber may be a good choice:

  • To skaters, your bench won’t be a smooth ride;
  • to normal users, though, your bench feels great to sit on.
    Of course, if you are trying to discourage people from lying on your bench, this is a bad solution.
Noticed those metal protrusions? They inconvenience skaters. Photo by Jean-Daniel Francoeur from Pexels.

Problem with Affordable Housing in China

Economists often have the most controversial designs. The toilet-less condos are an excellent example.

Low-income families in China are subsidized to move out of slums and into apartment buildings. Some of these new homeowners, however, would quickly resell those condos and move back to slums.

Photo by KJ Brix on Unsplash

Maybe they had good reasons to do so. Perhaps they bore more pressuring financial needs elsewhere, such as long-standing debts, but that’s not the problem that the affordable housing policy attempts to solve. The goal of this policy was to make poor people live better, not to relieve their financial burdens. That’s a waste of taxpayers’ money.

Condos without toilets

To discourage such resells, economist Mao Yushi proposed toilet-less apartments: The subsidized buildings should omit in-unit restrooms; instead, just build a shared bathroom on each floor.

Photo by Mark Hang Fung So on Unsplash

Mao observed that slums generally do not have individual toilets anyways. People who have been dwelling in slums won’t lose anything by moving into toilet-less condos. However, to an ordinary homebuyer with average buying power, lack of bathroom would be a deal-breaker. This way, the design is only going to inconvenience resellers.

Smart? Definitely. Ethical? Questionable.

(For those who don’t see the problem: Last time a bathroom-less building made the news, it was a CBC satire.)