The Board of Directors of AIA New York has recently released a statement discouraging the design of criminal justice facilities that uphold the current system. Taking a stand against designing unjust, cruel, and harmful spaces of incarceration, AIA NY solicited architects to reflect on the broader social implications of their work.
Prisons: The Latest Architecture and News
Imagine that you are in a cubicle located in the middle of the office floor plate. Your office has a glazed front, but you are looking into another open office. You have no real window or view to the outside, so you can't tell if it's raining outside or sunny. If you are lucky, and you do have a window, it's fixed, and you are looking into an office in the neighbouring building that is five metres away.
The fluorescent lighting that you sit under for eight hours has thrown out your body's natural circadian rhythm. The ventilation is alright, but you start to feel droopy at around 3pm because the carbon dioxide levels in your shoebox have risen. It might even feel a bit stuffy, regardless of the door being open or closed. As you don't have an operable window, you have been breathing in recycled air all day. When you get outside and take a breath, you will instantly notice that the air outside is fresh.
Now multiply that by five days a week, 48 weeks a year. Maybe you will get a pot plant in a few weeks.
Set to screen at the ADFF:NOLA festival, Frank Gehry: Building Justice showcases how Gehry-led student architecture studios developed proposals for more humane prisons.
Thanks to initiatives like the Art for Justice Fund, Open Society Foundations, and a slew of insightful reporting, the American criminal justice system has been under great scrutiny and pressure to reform. Some of these changes have been quite prominent—such as the increasingly-widespread decriminalization of pot and pending major federal legislation—and have faced opposition from the powerful lobbying of the private prison corporations. However, despite the depth and breadth of criminal justice reform, one critically important element has remained mostly overlooked: the design of correctional facilities.
Group Project, a student group from MIT, is helping GrowingChange, a non-profit that works with previously incarcerated youth, to transform an old North Carolina prison into an agricultural community center. GrowingChange looks to take advantage of the small, decommissioned prisons scattered throughout the state's landscape. They see these sites as "places where communities can work together to provide clinical support, education, and vocational training as a means to divert youth from the criminal justice" system.
Read on for more about how prison flipping intends to "counter a legacy of incarceration."
99% Invisible has recently published a review of rotary jails, a strange prison architecture system in which cell blocks turn to align with the position of a single door, in the attempt to create better security. Used around the early 20th century, this odd, carousel-like technology spread across the United States in mainly Midwestern towns.
Forensic Architecture Digitally Reconstruct Secret Syrian Torture Prison from the Memories of Survivors
Forensic Architecture, a research agency based at the University of London, in collaboration with Amnesty International, has created a 3D model of Saydnaya, a Syrian torture prison, using architectural and acoustic modeling. The project, which was commissioned in 2016, reconstructs the architecture of the secret detention center from the memory of several survivors, who are now refugees in Turkey.
Since the beginnings of the Syrian crisis in 2011, tens of thousands of Syrians have been taken into a secret network of prisons and detention centers run by the Assad government for a variety of alleged crimes opposing the regime. After passing through a series of interrogations and centers, many prisoners are taken to Saydnaya, a notoriously brutal “final destination,” where torture is used not to obtain information, but rather only to terrorize and often kill detainees.
Located about 25 kilometers north of Damascus, Saydnaya stands in a German-designed building dating from the 1970s. In recent years, no meaningful visits from independent journalists or monitoring groups have been permitted, so no recent photographs or other accounts exist of its interior space, except for the memories of Saydnaya survivors.
Prisons are often seen as problematic for their local communities. After centuries of correctional facilities discouraging economic growth and occupying valuable real estate as a necessary component of towns and cities, many of these institutions have been relocated away from city centers and their abandoned vestiges are left as unpleasant reminders of their former use. In fact, the majority of prisons built in the United States since 1980 have been placed in non-metropolitan areas and once served as a substantial economic development strategy in depressed rural communities.  However, a new pressure is about to emerge on the US prison systems: beginning in 2010, America's prison population declined for the first time in decades, suggesting that in the near future repurposing these structures will become a particularly relevant endeavor for both community development and economic sustainability. These abandoned shells offer architects valuable opportunities to reimagine programmatic functions and transform an otherwise problematic location into an integral neighborhood space.
Why repurpose prisons rather than starting fresh? The answer to this question lies in the inherent architectural features of the prison typology, namely the fact that these structures are built to last. People also often forget that prison buildings are not limited to low-rise secure housing units - in fact, prisons feature an array of spaces that have great potential for reuse including buildings for light industrial activity, training or office buildings, low-security housing, and large outdoor spaces. These elements offer a wide variety of real estate for new programmatic uses, and cities around the world have begun to discover their potential. What could the US learn from these examples, at home and overseas?
The architecture of containment is a fascinating area. The spartan utilitarian spaces of prisons are among the most highly considered, sophisticated and expensive there are. It’s unusual for designers to create spaces for people who experience it against their will (well, mostly) and it is a tricky balance between creating sensitive, positive places for rehabilitation and community expectations about what punishment should look like. There are different approaches around the world: the US take a particular stance; the Norwegians have another. Hollywood, of course, has its own interpretation. And it is not concerned by such trivialities as the Geneva Convention.
The design of prisons is a controversial topic for architects, but Deanna VanBuren takes a novel approach to the subject. Designing for a judicial system that advocates “restorative justice,” VanBuren works with felons, victims, and other architects to create spaces where everyone can undergo a healing process following a crime. In a recent profile, the L.A. Times documents one of her design workshops with prisoners, demonstrating how this form of outreach can change the lives of those inside. Read the full story here. Also, be sure to check out our interview with Deanna VanBuren here!
From CLOG. In many countries, architects assume that designing to meet the local building code assures that their buildings are safe for the public. But what if a building’s harm is not in the risk of the building falling down, but in the building performing as intended? If designed for the wrong purpose, can a building be a human rights violation, and if so, what should an architect do about it?
Coinciding with the release of CLOG : PRISONS, the J. Max Bond Center on Design for the Just City and the Masters of Urban Design Program at the Spitzer School of Architecture are hosting a lecture and panel response organized by CLOG that will critically examine the architecture of incarceration.
Originally published by the Architectural Review as "Discipline and Punish: the Architecture of Human Rights", this article by the founder of Architects Designers and Planners for Social Responsibility Raphael Sperry outlines how prison design in the US and elsewhere is violating fundamental human rights, and how some architects have come to be complicit in these designs.
We think of architectural regulations as being there to ensure that buildings are safe for the public. But what if a building’s harm is not caused by unexpected structural failure but by the building performing exactly as intended? Can a building designed to facilitate human rights violations amount to a violation in itself? And what is the responsibility of the architects involved? These are the questions at the centre of the current debate in America around the architectural profession’s involvement in prison design.
Read on for more on the ethics of prison design after the break
A recent topic that has been receiving attention among architects is the issue of designing prisons. The increased awareness of the problem has been spearheaded by Raphael Sperry, founder of Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility, who has been campaigning to have the AIA forbid members from designing execution chambers or solitary confinement units. At the other end of the scale, Deanna VanBuren, a principle of FOURM Design Studio and a member of ADPSR herself, has championed 'restorative justice', an approach to the justice system which emphasizes rehabilitation and reconciliation in order to prevent people from re-offending.
Now Glen Santayana, a student at Harvard's Graduate School of Design, has used his thesis project to add to this debate, designing PriSchool - a prison which both integrates with a school of criminology and is embedded within the community. Could this radical approach to prison design really be an answer to the stretched prison system in the US (and elsewhere)? Read on after the break to find out more.