Within|out the Wall: decoding the image of incarceration

Author: ORCID icon orcid.org/0009-0003-6998-6293
Clark, Kelly, School of Architecture, University of Virginia
Gonzalez Aranguren, Maria, AR-Architecture, University of Virginia

This thesis is titled Within (or without) the Walls and aims to decode the image of imprisonment. Mass incarceration in the United States is a social, political, racial, and economic problem. However, it is also a spatial one. Prison has long been understood as a wall. Perception varies depending on what side of the wall the observer resides; from within, it represents surveillance and isolation, while from the outside, it signifies security and exile. Historically, United States prison aesthetics have isolated and antagonized offenders, commended authority, and gave rise to misunderstanding in the outsider. The dichotomy between inside and outside serves as a framework for critiquing these social systems, along with the resultant structures and hierarchies they produce. The research will draw extensively from typological precedents of United States federal prisons, understanding the various spatial and social dynamics in which those exist, with a specific focus on the urban context. My proposition will offer a synthetic view of the prison, reimagining an urban institution’s interface with society through designing a mediation of barriers, weaving the inside and out by lessening the extent of isolation and fostering a range of social interactions. By puncturing the boundaries, both visual and physical, through scalable social programming like recreation, production and education, the goal is to disintegrate the perception of separation on both sides of the wall. The ideological shift of viewing imprisonment as a secondary social dynamic as opposed to the primary dynamic of outside life will make way for the positive development and rehabilitation of prisoners preparing for release. Today, prison architecture reinforces mass incarceration by breaking social systems, increasing recidivism, and degrading identity. Architecture, and the architect, have a role to play in creating a reimagined prison: a place that heals, invests in human dignity, and restores communities.

MArch (Master of Architecture)
prison architecture, mass incarceration, urban context, United States, perception, image of imprisonment, human dignity, rehabilitation, social systems, design
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