The Seattle Architecture Lobby Hosts Tour of Hostile Architecture in Pioneer Square

by Alexander Froehlich and the Seattle Architecture Lobby

The Seattle Design Festival comes downtown every year to celebrate “how design improves the quality of our lives and our community.” This year the Seattle Architecture Lobby will be conducting a Hostile Architecture Tour to explore who has the power to design, who doesn’t, and which communities are affected by design choices. Through a 10-stop tour we will examine design as the result of deliberate processes that serve some and not others. We will also discuss our role as designers with power and complicity in those processes which shape our city.

The Seattle Architecture Lobby is part of a national organization advocating for positive change of both process and product through the creation of a union of architectural workers. The Lobby recognizes things that need to change within our profession (e.g. a history of patriarchy and unpaid labor, and the declining value of architectural labor). The Lobby is also concerned with the power of organized labor to effect positive change in the built environment (e.g. combating racism and displacement, questioning borders, incarceration and immigration, and increasing the rights of residents to the city).

While most architects join the profession to improve quality of life for others, many in the field are unfulfilled working for clients who don’t have communities’ interests at heart or who actively harm their communities. Meanwhile, existing professional organizations disproportionately support large firms and limit horizons of grassroots change, hosting award ceremonies for palatable projects and leaving no space for criticism of members’ work.

Architects are quick to take credit for design’s role in improving learning, healing, or connection to nature, but when it comes to failures of the built environment—problems such as homelessness, incarceration, displacement, inequality—architectural orthodoxy posits these as “political,” “economic,” or “social” problems beyond the realm of designers. If architects want to effectively improve life in communities (much less maintain a relevant profession) we must step outside of our traditional practice and become political, economic, and social actors.

This tour will be a cursory look at vehicles of inclusion and exclusion embedded in the architecture around Pioneer Square and the Chinatown-International District. We’re indebted to and building on the efforts of many (mostly non-architect) groups who have been working on the issues we aim to discuss. We intend to add an explicitly architectural perspective and facilitate a discussion around organized architectural labor’s potential to aid the work of community groups.

Join us under the bear and Tsonoqua totems, on the north side of Occidental square, September 8th and 9th, at 12 PM and 3 PM. Tours will last one hour. Accessibility: We will be walking for approximately one mile on paved sidewalks with 200 feet of elevation gain, ending at the Panama Hotel & Tea House.

The Hostile Architecture Tour takes place September 8 and 9 at noon and 3 PM in Occidental Square Park in Seattle. For more information, write to or visit

Featured Image: Courtesy @nullthread

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