Thank you for your continued readership over the past year. It is with great excitement that we announce the next phase in the evolution of So|Aware Architecture — that is, the rebranding and launch as The Commonist Magazine. Please check us out and submit your personal articles or artwork at commonistmag.com
by Bill Burns
Has this week’s So|Aware Prison coverage got you feeling crazy? If so, you can spend the weekend locked in your own guard tower and prison cells built with Bill Burns IKEA-esque instructions. Also in the Kit is a list of songs played repetitively to prisoners at several extraterritorial prison camps including that at Guantanamo Bay Cuba. Songs include, the Bee Gees “Stayin’ Alive,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA,” JoeRaposo’s “Sesame Street Theme Song,” and much more.
Via Erin Riley
Thanks for reading everyone. Have a great weekend!
by John MacArthur & Richard Ross
For the past several years—and with seemingly limitless access—photographer Richard Ross has been making unsettling and thought-provoking pictures of architectural spaces that exert power over the individuals within them. From a Montessori preschool to churches, mosques and diverse civic spaces including a Swedish courtroom, the Iraqi National Assembly hall and the United Nations, the images in Architecture of Authority build to ever harsher manifestations of power: an interrogation room at Guantanamo, segregation cells at Abu Ghraib, and finally, a capital punishment death chamber.
Though visually cool, this work deals with hot-button issues—from the surveillance that increasingly intrudes on post-9/11 life to the abuse of power and the erosion of individual liberty. The connections among the various architectures are striking, as Ross points out: “The Santa Barbara Mission confessional and the LAPD robbery homicide interrogation rooms are the same intimate proportions. Both are made to solicit a confession in exchange for some form of redemption.” Essay by Harper’s Magazine publisher, John R. MacArthur, also a columnist for the Toronto Globe and Mail.
by Leslie Fairweather RIBA & Sean McConville
Current and future prison designs are examined in this book, within the government’s prison building program, and the confines of current penal philosophies and legislation. America has led the way in prison design, with two main types of architecture predominating: radial layouts (outside cells with windows) and linear blocks (inside cells with grilles). Now, ‘new’ generation prisons (central association surrounded by small groups of cells) look set to become the fashion. But are they a better answer, and should they be copied worldwide before we know?
Architects and administrators show in this book the designs of these ‘new generation’ prisons and assess their impact. Most countries in central Europe also have a rising crime rate and a demand for new prisons. Contributions from significant architects from the UK, Europe and America comment on these issues.
Other topics within the book are: setting current prison architecture and design against an historical setting; looking at penal ideas and prison architecture and design in the post-war period; the psychological effects of the prison environment; the influence of technology and design on security management; and how prison architecture and design can be more flexible and innovative.
The US prison system has failed to see advancements throughout the past century and desperately requires innovation and re-imagination. While recent literature begins to question the sociological impact of prisons, there has been little exploration of the physical environments in which inmates are housed.
499.SUMMIT is the outcome of a critical look into these static institutions. It proposed to challenges all preconceived notions of the word “prison”, and re-imagines the high-rise as an urban penitentiary. The massing consists of three towers in the shape of an arch. The inherent linear and formal qualities of the ‘arch’ allowed for the overall circulatory concept: Up, over, down. Each arch has three primary phases, Incarceration (up), Transformation (over), and Integration (down). The arches begin isolated during the incarceration phase and merge together both physically and programmatically during the integration phase. As the inmates graduate through the facility, they are being exposed to an increasing degree of social interaction, to make the transition back into society as soft as possible. To catalyst this process, public program and residential housing are introduced in the integration phase downwards.
Norway’s Ministry of Justice invited Erik Møller Architects to compete for the design of Halden Fengsel Prison. The prison is located in Halden, in Southern Norway. It was designed to house 250 prisoners which, unlike American prisons, would be a mixture of men and women.
The design is based on the hard and soft interactions in the prisoners’ rehabilitation process. Sited in a hilly wooded area, the prison is generally divided into two areas – housing development, located in the most hilly area, and administration and employment areas located in a lower area with buildings organized more specifically around the central large air courtyard and sports court. Halden prison also has a mural by Norwegian street artist Dolk, which is reportedly worth $1 million.
So is this massive investment in architecture and design worth it for Norway’s most hardened criminals, including murderers and rapists?
A Time Magazine article reports that, although recidivism rates are calculated differently between countries, only 20% of Norway’s prisoners end up back in jail within 2 years (compared to 50%–60% in the UK and US).
by Harry Weese
The Metropolitan Correctional Center, or MCC, is a federal jail right in the middle of downtown Chicago. It’s a triangle-shaped skyscraper, 27 stories, with tall, super-narrow, irregularly-spaced windows up and down each wall. The outside walls look like old computer punchcards. As odd as it looks, each of these striking details serve a purpose. The architect, Harry Weese, made bold innovations that were solutions to practical problems. The triangular shape creates easy sight-lines for the guards inside. The windows are narrow (5 inches) to prevent escapes (without requiring bars), but beveled out, to funnel natural light inside. The interior design was very thoughtfully considered as well. As stunning as it is, the building can also be a little hard to see from up close.
Producer/reporter Dan Weissmann worked nearby for years and rarely looked up at it. This is apparently by design, as well. The triangular shape keeps the building pushed back from the street, there’s a tall hedge between the sidewalk and the plaza in front of the jail, and the El train blocks much of the view of the floors above. But recently Dan kind of became obsessed with the MCC and discovered that Harry Weese’s groundbreaking design may still gain admirers from the throngs of people that pass it on the street, but for the 681 temporary residents inside, it may not be living up to Weese’s grand vision.
Originally launched in 2004 as the Prison Design Boycott, ADPSR’s Prison Alternatives Initiative calls on architects and other design professionals, along with the public to support community-based alternatives to incarceration. Their website communicates the painfully stunning facts and figures associated with U.S. prisons.
Our prison system is both a devastating moral blight on our society and an overwhelming economic burden on our tax dollars, taking away much needed resources from schools, health care and affordable housing. The prison system is corrupting our society and making us more threatened, rather than protecting us as its proponents claim. It is a system built on fear, racism, and the exploitation of poverty. Our current prison system has no place in a society that aspires to liberty, justice, and equality for all.
As architects, we are responsible for one of the most expensive parts of the prison system, the construction of new prison buildings. Almost all of us would rather be using our professional skills to design positive social institutions such as universities or playgrounds, but these institutions lack funding because of spending on prisons. If we would rather design schools and community centers, we must stop building prisons.
Please join members of ADPSR in pledging to not participate in the design, construction, or renovation of prisons. We also invite you to learn more about the prison system, to join us in envisioning more just and productive alternatives to incarceration, and to work towards a society that treats all its members with dignity, equality, and justice.
Related Newscast: A plan to convert a State Prison for Women into one for men, is upsetting people in the neighboring community, who believe they’ve already been left behind…
(So|Aware is not responsible for any advertisements in the video)
The decommissioned Lincoln Heights Jail, once home to notorious gangster, Al Capone, may soon be revitalized thanks to the Los Angeles River Revitalization Corporation, City Council District 1, and pro bono work by renowned architecture firm, Perkins + Will.
The jail, built in 1949, is currently listed as an LA historic-cultural monument and is owned by the city. The conceptual design envisions the property as a green zone and LA River access point. The first phase of implementation calls for a 24,000 square foot “urban agricultural space” on the roof of the six-story building. The River Revitalization Corporation is already working with potential operators and reports state that a demonstration project could be up and running in 18 months’ time.
Since 1993, the Pre-Release center, a division of the Cook County Jail, has operated an extensive vegetable garden, using inmate labor, during the summer months. Over those same 17 years, they have shipped more than 50 tons of fresh produce to homeless shelters and other deserving non-profit organizations; involving more than 400 inmates in hands on learning in horticulture, from planting to harvesting; and , since the year 2000, officially certified more than 200 of those inmates as Master Gardeners following classroom instruction and on site testing.
With the assistance of the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service, inmates are taught a wide range of organic farming and gardening skills in a supportive, constructive, and positive environment; skills which are meant to enhance their prospects for gainful employment upon release. A plot of land within the Cook County Jail complex measuring approximately 30,000 square feet serves as the “classroom” for this unique rehabilitative horticultural program.