The Gehry studio will focus on the issue of mass incarceration in the United States. There are roughly 5,000 prisons and jails currently in the United States, a scale of built institutional work that outnumbers American colleges and universities. In tandem with the movement to end mass incarceration, and drawing on researched alternatives to acts of crime and methods of justice, you will be asked to envision a future architecture of incarceration for a radically reduced prisoner population.
The project site will be the Cheshire Correctional Facility in Cheshire, Connecticut. Built in 1913, the building was originally designed to hold boys and young men. Currently, the building has a capacity to house up to 1,600 adults, having undergone multiple modification and additions over the past 100 years. Projecting forward, the facility will be re-imagined to house three hundred men convicted of serious, primarily violent offenses, serving sentences between five and fifteen years. The existing building serves as a point of departure and can be re-used or discarded entirely. The speculative nature of the project, based on contemporary research and theory, requires you to examine closely the role of architecture as a means to provide safety, refuge, and facilitate personal transformation alongside its ability to reflect or enact the will of society. The project asks you to design a new typology, exploring the unimagined.
The studio will focus on the definition of a master plan and building for the facility as well as the detailed development of a singular space. Working at multiple scales from the room interior to the city, the studio will consider the relationship between the incarcerated individual and the affected community, seeking to propose new paradigms, with an emphasis on humane, restorative environments.
The studio will be run in close collaboration with Impact Justice, a national innovation and research center, committed to rethinking the current criminal justice system. Impact Justice will act as advisor, educator and facilitator to the studio, sharing their experience, expertise, research and partnership network with the class. The studio begins with a series of presentations, conversations and lectures by visiting scholars, researchers and activists in associated fields, including: criminal justice, politics, religion, economics, law, social justice and restorative justice. Weekly talks will be coordinated to facilitate the rapid appropriation of knowledge, enabling a well researched foundation for speculation. In parallel to the initial discussions led by Impact Justice, students will undertake collective research on the site and prepare a series of typological precedent studies to further understand the relationship between architecture of incarceration and human inhabitation.
Students will visit the Cheshire Correctional Facility site, an active prison, where they will tour the existing building and, later in the semester, share their evolving design concepts with with some of the men incarcerated there, seeking their feedback.
During travel week, the studio will visit Finland and Norway to tour alternate strategies of incarceration currently utilized in Scandinavian countries. The studio will also look at a variety of institutional and civic building forms on the trip as a tool for considering how architectural ideas work to define human experience. During a portion of Thanksgiving Break, the studio will travel to Los Angeles to visit the office of Gehry Partners, visit two atypical U.S. prisons and meet with Susan Burton of A New Way of Life, who has formed a successful re-entry program in Los Angeles and serves as a mentor to the studio through her work. In Los Angeles, and throughout the process, students will also engage with formerly incarcerated individuals, who will be able to intelligently inform the design process.
Students will work independently in the studio and will be encouraged to investigate a personal approach to the given design problem. There will be strong emphasis on large scale physical models throughout the semester as a primary design tool.