Thursday, April 12, 2012

Prison futurism in New Jersey with a straight face

As usual when really, really short of inspiration, I've been trolling the blogroll at the wonderful Daily Dose of Architecture site. Come to find there's a site called Bustler where every image would give Ridley Scott the galloping goose pimples.

For example, this astonishing "Twisted Link" design for a Hong Kong - Shenzhen border crossing terminal, which makes the huge structure appear to pass crowds of people through a Moebius twist. As described, it "indicates multi-level and deep cooperation between Hong Kong and Shenzhen on the economical, cultural and more levels." As viewed, it could imply that one area's reality is on a different plane than the other's. I wonder...

More riveting, though, is the "499.SUMMIT" design of a prison for Jersey City. It's by a couple of grad students from UPenn. They appear to have designed it in earnest but the whole thing looks like the super-scary cover of a sci-fi thriller. The exterior imagined against dark clouds and the interior looking like the Death Star's. In case the mere design isn't future-gothic enough, it's shown arching over a railroad with a train rushing through. Gotta wonder, do these folks see themselves as the good guys or are they practicing some kind of very sophisticated sarcasm? Here's what they have to say about it:
"Our 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 status of prisons, there has be little exploration of the physical apparatus in which inmates are housed. We as designers must take a critical look at these static institutions, and question how we can play a significant role in the design and function of future prisons.
499.SUMMIT carefully challenges all preconceived notions of the word “prison”, and proposes simple yet powerful ideas that re-imagine 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 us to establish our key 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, in order to make the transition back into society as soft as possible. To catalyst this process, public program and residential housing units are introduced in the integration phase downwards."
"Challenges all preconceived notions of the word 'prison'?" No, I'd say it confirms quite a few if not all preconceived notions of prisons on Mars, Tatooine or Airstrip One.

Yeah, and "catalyst" isn't a verb.

So, well, eh, Penn is a good place for inventing the Prison Of The Future. Pennsylvania started this scientific prison thing in the first place.

By the way, in poking around to see if these "499.SUMMIT" guys were serious, I ran into something called the Prison Alternatives Initiative, which is an effort by a whole nother group of architects. They started as the Prison Design Boycott in 2004 and that's still their basic idea. They think there are entirely too many prisons constructed already.

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