Illusions of Utopia: When Prison Architects (Reluctantly) Play Tetris

Scheer, David and Lorne, Colin (2017). Illusions of Utopia: When Prison Architects (Reluctantly) Play Tetris. In: Moran, Dominique and Schliehe, Anna eds. Carceral Spatiality: Dialogues between Geography and Criminology. Palgrave Studies in Prisons and Penology. Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 113–134.



Although prisons are increasingly built away from cities, prison architects are imagining prisons as cities. Such an urban metaphor is perhaps unsurprising; both the prison and the city are often assumed to be relatively bounded places, prisons arguably resembling self-sufficient cities with facilities such as accommodation, classrooms, workshops, laundries, health clinics and gardens contained within their walls. The vocabulary of the city is also pervasive when justifying prison architecture. In this chapter we consider why prison architects use the metaphor of the city to describe the prisons they design, using terminology such as ‘walled bungalows’, ‘penitentiary houses’, ‘vertical prisons’ and ‘cell apartments’, and we examine the significance of this rather dystopian urban imaginary in allowing architects to retain some agency within a design process which minimises their creative and political input.

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