Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Architects Boycott Prison Design

Architects / Designers / Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR) are helping to build a movement of designers who say no to prison design. The growing prison population not only exacerbates the racial and economic inequalities in our society, but is also bankrupting many of the public institutions that form the best alternatives. See if you know someone who has already signed the pledge, and consider adding your name.


Blogger Bridger said...

I see three people from Minnesota have signed the Pledge. Contact them for their personal point of view and whether this action has affected their professional life at all. Would they even work in a firm that was involved in prison design? What if the firm's significant client base includes those in society that support or perpetuate knowingly or unknowingly the current social system that builds prisons rather than schools? Where do they draw the social action line when it comes to their livelihoods? Many interesting possibilities here.

5:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that these people should be contacted.

11:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find this argument to be quite interesting. Two years ago I did some survey work at a local prison that had been shut down approximately a year earlier. It was my first time in a prison and I found the conditions to be appalling. I couldn't imagine how anyone would ever do anything that might result in them ending up there once, let alone returning there.

I agree with the position that prisons and jails should not continue to be built in their current form. However, as architects and designers I also believe we have a responsibility to improve the environment. Therefore we should be working to identify how better design can improve the situation and contribute to the reform. Maybe instead of a boycott there should be a design competition.

I agree that we need social services and reentry programs and schools as well, but I think it is unrealistic to think that we wouldn't need facilities for more serious criminals. Maybe I am taking an unpopular stance here and I would love to be convinced otherwise, but I just don't see how we can completely eliminate prison.

As I mentioned previously, I think we would be better served by contributing rather than boycotting. And maybe there are some that are doing this and I just missed that part of the description.

4:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wait a minute. Lets not be hypocrites. A stance and request of others to boycott participation in the design or construction of prisons, because the prison system is "corrupting our society and making us more threatened, rather than protecting us" is quite socially irresponsible. Shouldn't we use our professional skills towards the design of positive social institutions?
It is because of these particular skills and knowledge that we are needed in order to design prisons in such a way that they can somehow reform behavior (yes, idealistic, yet to an extent realistic). I do believe we can create environments that improve quality of living, and as a longer term consequence (no matter how long it takes for that consequence to become reality), reduce crime. If we simply turn our backs on this issue we are only fostering the decay of prison environment, which in turn encourages hostile conditions, increase in crime, segregation, you get the point. I only wish you believed the point.

6:40 PM  
Blogger motherjones said...

The premise of boycott is still valid to me, that of personally refusing to benefit financially from something one is morally opposed to. Boycott does not preclude the design of alternative schemes in parallel. In fact, boycott is often used in other protest movements as a transitional, not permanent state, toward some ends. Boycott as awareness. I had little control over the prison project I worked on as and intern architect at Stillwater Prison years ago. And still, I made the decision that it would be my last.

10:32 PM  
Blogger steven hall said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6:45 PM  
Blogger Laura D. said...

As an architectural intern in college, I had the opportunity to tour a juvinelle prison facility a few weeks before it was opened to the offenders. I do not believe that the facility itself makes the difference. It should be a place separated from the main population for reasons of safety and protection. And those places are scary, i feel that all 10 year old school children should be required to take that tour. It makes you realize what a scary place they are.

7:06 PM  
Blogger steven hall said...

I just do not understand how boycotting prison design is going to help make things better.
People that oppose prison design by saying that it perpetuates a system that does not work should also oppose to design government and educational buildings, as those other system fail too.

I personally think that prisons are a necessity. Murderers exist, so as rapists and thieves. These kinds of people need to be isolated for the well being of the rest of the society. Prisons are for protecting society from potential recurrent aggressions.

If you really want to address the problem of criminal behavior you need to dig deeper. The problem is not necessarily where criminals end up, but where they begin. Its in the cracks of society’s moral foundations where the real problem hides. And that is the problem that nobody wants to engage because it is harder than just doing a boycott.

When somebody commits a crime it is the society that has failed. Prisons full of people are just the consequence of forgetting that.

7:33 PM  
Blogger John Mark said...

This is an interesting page in that the issues that are involved here go far beyond simply buidling or not building prisons. Some of which has been touched upon. I see that one post has been removed and as I feel that any discussion should allow all sides, I will try to limit my frustrations on this topic so as not to offend anybody to the point of removal. I support this "boycott" though I will not sign it as my reasons for not building more prisons are different. As architects we talk about social responsibility and talk about working towards Utopia, and with well meaning intentions, but many times those intentions have results other than were meant because the human element cannot be totally predicted. Prison reform only adds to the problem. The reason our prisons are so full is that there is not enough fear of the prison system. It is my opinion, and only my opinion, that when people commit a crime they are giving up their rights to life, liberty, and happiness. Make the prison system a place that people don't want to be. Being hard on crime should not be lowering the standards of putting people in, but raising the standards of punishment. And, you can do that without BEATING or physical TORTURE. Anybody want to go down south and get put in a south american prison? Other contries have lower prison populations because NOBODY wants to end up there. Instead of making prisons better places, focus on what the author of the original page mentioned... "social services, drug treatment, and good job opportunities (that) have been downsized or lost, even though these approaches have consistently been shown to be the best way to reduce criminal activity, prevent repeat offenses, and improve people's chances for economic success." However, just as the good intentions that were mentioned earlier, these are things with which there should be a new attitude. Our history provides for handouts instead of headstarts. The Issue should be that we build more learning opportunities, not just creating better jobs, but teaching people to be better qualified. Put those prison dollars into new training opportunities that teach skills.

Give the man a fish and you give him a meal. Teach the man to fish and you give him a life-time of meals.

Thank you for giving me a chance to discuss this. I hope to continue reading every side to this dicussion.

1:15 AM  
Blogger Bridger said...

john mark,
Please note that the "comment deleted" was by the comment author themselves, and not a result of censorship by the blog group. It is hoped that removing any comments would be for offensive material only not mere disagreement with the commentor's opinion.

8:53 AM  
Blogger vitoacconci said...

I am confused by the comments of John Mark. If one gets caught stealing a six-pack of beer, should they then go to jail for the rest of their life? That seems to me to be cruel and unusual punishment. Also, if said offender knew the conditions of prison, then they would then not steal beer? People know that if they eat fast food all the time they'll get fat, but they still do.

There is no way that all crimes will be punishable by life sentences, nor should they. Yet, there are people who shouldn't be free: Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, etc. Because of these reasons, there will always be a need to house these people in prisons. It is a building type that is as necessary as a hospital. Should they be well designed? One would hope.

They idea that agreeing not to design a jail will help society is naive at best. The architect is not able fix every socio-economic problem the United States has, we just want to believe we can. By not engaging in this type, we are implying that inmates are second class citizens yet again.

12:09 PM  
Blogger motherjones said...

The question I have for the practice of architecture, then, is if all architects are obligated to do all projects, of all building types ? I'll argue that its more than appropriate for architects to pick and choose those projects that meet there ethical standards. The carear minded architect often works on anything the boss says, unless she is the boss, and this tends to wash the ethical edge right out of practice all together. By choosing intentionally to not work on one project type, there is arguably more time available for the projects we desire more. Intentionally not doing something can be as empowering and radicalizing a moment as choosing to do something.

9:29 PM  
Blogger Bridger said...

The October 18, 2005 issue of Finance and Commerce ( has an article titled, "KKE pulls another inside job at Stillwater Prison". As you know they were guests in our class last week and it would be interesting to get their perspective on the issues exposed in your Blog post. You could contact Greg or Mohammed for the appropriate KKE contact.

7:59 AM  
Blogger hc said...

Interesting point. I was curious though of the precedent that a 'design boycott' might set. Would this justify the animal rights activist architect refusing the cosmetics company, a pro-lifer refusing the Planned Parenthood, a scientologist architect refusing a medical facilities commission? Where would the line be between personal and professional?

12:21 PM  
Anonymous November said...

I am a little confused by your comment, hc. Do you imply that people should be totally distinct entities when they are at work and when they are not ?
Anyone can actually refuse to do something if it goes against his beliefs. In the name of what whould you deny anyone this freedom ?

3:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I find your blog very interesting. I am a Student of architecture currently doing my masters in South Africa, which has the 14th largest incarceration rate in the world. That, coupled with the large disparities in our society have attracted my attention to the debate surrounding prison design. My thesis topic is on Women's Prisons (Women's rights are very fragile here with many women yet to enjoy the rights prescribed by our constitution).

I would like to pose a question to you: do you think that your design boycott will effect change where decades even centuries of discussion and debate haven't? Or do you think that maybe we have something that scores of those activists haven't...the ability to actually translate our liberal putative attitudes into the built form?

Apart from that, have you come across any interesting 'liberal' prison design? Justizzentrum Leoben is about as close as i have come and i am looking for any precedents.

1:19 PM  
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