# MILITARIZED ARCHITECTURES /// The Open Warehouse as the new Carceral Paradigm

Mule Creek State Prison (Ione, California)
(Note the “No Warning Shot is Required Sign”)

The overcrowded Californian prisons give us an idea of the current architectural carceral paradigm. Far from the elaborated 19th century drawings of Jeremy Bentham, entire parts of those prisons are simple warehouse hosting dozens of detainees with no other internal wall than the rough-and-ready three stories beds aligned on a virtual grid. The pre-18th century jail was a dark dungeon in which prisoners were forgotten by the otherness, the current one, on the opposite, sinks the detainees in a strong and crude white light (even during the night) in a hall where every act and move are being potentially observed. The United States currently counts over 2,3 millions incarcerated people (about 3% of the adult population) and the State of California in particular, hosts 140,000 detainees reaching an overcrowded status that the Supreme Court has recently judged unconstitutional.

As I have been writing many times, the question of the design of a prison is an interesting one as it makes us face the extreme of architecture’s power over the bodies. The perpetual question for an architect consist in wondering if one might accept to design such a program, and in the case of a refusal, if one should even design offices, banks, stores etc. But if we do accept such a commission in the hope of making things better from “the inside”, one has to face a peculiar question when asked to design a prison. Even the most considerate architect has to recognize that the very essence of this program consists in providing life conditions bad enough to constitute an instrument of punishment. There has been some recent discussions about Scandinavian prisons (and for that matter, even about Scandinavian punishment system) which were said to be too comfortable to be considered as such. In that regard – and to stay within this logic – the Californian prison’s gymnasiums can be legitimately considered as good design as it precisely serves the punitive essence of prisons…

However, since the change of paradigm pointed out by Michel Foucault in his book, Discipline and Punishment, the new forms (since the end of the 18th century) of incarceration not only still include the old purposes of punishment and example,  they also incorporate the goal of repent and “healing” for each prisoner. For this last purpose, punishment should not be excessive as it might radicalize the detainee against the society that put him at the center of an inclusive exclusion. In that matter, design is considered as an important catalyst and probably needs to be much more elaborated and humane than the Californian warehouses. Once again, I argue here in the position of somebody who would have accepted to design a prison in the first place. On the opposite position, we might want to argue that the very notion of a punitive architecture is obsolete and that we need to come up with new ways (which are likely to have nothing to do with design) of dealing with crime in a given society.

California Institution for Men, State Prison (Chino)

Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility (San Diego)

San Quentin Prison (San Francisco)

Orange County Cell


Frenks Brown

At first glance, I thought they were workers for a home manufacturer. Nice designs. Would make these convicted felons a bit comfortable while in jail.


Paulo Oliveira

It’s widely understood that prisons are meant to be correctional and deliver the detainees to society in a clean form. That’s not what happens in Brazil, as these institutions AND the Justice fail to filter what is and what is not a potential internal for jails, overcrowding them with no apparent reason. And the results tend to be catastrophic, as seen in movies like “Carandiru”. And the survivals certainly don’t get to improve after leaving jail, becoming even more violent and anti-social.

I don’t agree totally with the Danish way, but it’s a different case, as crimes are not an everyday issue for them. But it is a fact that a more comfortable, but balanced, approach should be universal.

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