The Anti-Panopticon: Rethinking the Architecture of Surveillance

The origins of American prison design can be traced back to Jeremy Bentham’s theory of the Panopticon developed in the late 18th century. Bentham believed surveillance was the best way to deter inmates from committing further crimes. Every prison in the U.S since, has adopted this model designed to produce a system of containment and punishment, while removing inmate interaction. The project proposes new organizational strategies creating more human centric spaces that will not only rehabilitate, but also question the notion that the ideal prison is not the panopticon, but the anti-panopticon.

Design Challenge

This thesis argues for a new prison typology that redesigns the architecture of confinement to positively influence rehabilitation and reintegration. The rehabilitation aspect of the prison will look to define three main aspects: 1) Daily Regime: Programs within the facility that support vocational training and education have proven to be a positive impact on the individual. 2) Social Interactions: Opportunities for collaboration, between inmates and the surrounding community can help make the transition back into society more successful. 3) Self-Reflection and Reformation: A focus on inmate mental health can greatly impact day to day operation within facilities. With these three aspects in mind, the challenge for this project was finding a way to introduce new spaces into the facility, all while thinking about the safety of the users. Although, this thesis focuses on non-violent male criminals, the nature of the program required a design that not only protected the individuals who work in the facility, but also the immediate community that surround the facility. As a result of this inquiry, three neighborhoods where created for the inmates within the facility. Each neighborhood incorporates support spaces that reflect the needs of the individuals housed in each neighborhood. The spaces in between these neighborhoods are spaces dedicated to members of the community and have programs that support their needs. In the end the renovation of the Eastern State Penitentiary allowed for the design of two separate buildings with some overlapping some program to accommodate the needs of the inmates and community.

Physical Context

The site is the Eastern State Penitentiary, located in a dense residential neighborhood in Philadelphia, PA. The site was chosen due to its direct correlation with the panopticon and more importantly for the potential benefits of interacting with the surrounding community. Prisons today are typically isolated from the community and as a result, inmates are less likely to be successful once they leave the facility and more likely to commit a crime and return. Research from the National Institute of Justice found that inmates are 60-70% more likely to return to prison after being released. The city of Philadelphia is working with the McArthur Foundation and has committed to reducing the cities’ correctional facilities by half within the next few years. This community is interested in not only lowering the incarceration rate, but also the recidivism rate. Making this an ideal location to test design strategies that do not priorities confinement but rehabilitation and community interaction. The former prison will be renovated to create a more porous condition that will accommodate the needs of both the inmates and community. Spaces are created throughout the facility in which community members can volunteer to collaborate with the inmates. Some of these spaces include classrooms, maker-spaces and places of worship. There are also site-specific programs that benefit those in the community like, farmers market, community garden and community center.