The 21st Century Prison London 2002–

This research project seeks to devise a prison environment and regime that would reduce recidivism and improve the prospect of resettlement through prisoner education and engagement. The model has led to further development with the UNDP in Africa and Artesis University and Flanders inShape in Belgium.

Image 1

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    Model - a chequerboard pattern of "houses" each with a garden. Beneath, the communal facilities for 400 prisoners are planned within a one-hectare plot. Smaller prisons ensure inmates stay close to their communities and families
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    Currently, officers spend much of their time moving prisoners, resulting in a regime which leaves little useful time. These diagrams & equation L = n (n-1)/2 describe how managed movement employs staff time and therefore cost
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    The model seeks to simplify the prison by creating a series of autonomous physical units or "houses" in which groups of prisoners may live, work and learn. In this scenario, centralised functions are minimised and specialist…
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    …staff move to the prisoner group. Because the specialists do not need to be accompanied this is more economic
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    Typically, prisons are planned with outside space remote from the cell. In our model the houses and communal activities have direct access to their own courtyard, therefore not requiring managed movement
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    The house offers a kind of social integration which more closely replicates conditions in the wider world. Also, it enables forms of activity and movement which make the regime more effective and affordable in the long run
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    In each house the cells for an accountable group of 36 prisoners are arranged in a U-shape. The lowest floor of the House is laid out around a central space designed for house meetings, leisure and dining
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    Each cell is paired with a neighbouring “buddying” cell. Choice & the sharing of space guards against what sociologists Goffman & Townsend describe as the ‘total institution’ & institutionalisation due to ‘structured dependency’
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    Ground floor reception, three central workshops (with space for half the prison population to work simultaneously), stores, shop, health centre, sports hall, pool, a multi-faith centre, administration block, visiting area & library
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    The Learning Prison inverts the Fordist logic of control, moving away from a building predicated on the need for externally imposed regulation. The new model suggests the principles by which security aspects might be maintained…
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    …whilst a learning regime is introduced through which the individual gradually learns to discipline their own life, as an active member of the house community. In the Learning Prison there is an invisible pedagogy at work


  • Appointment: 2002
  • Area: 1 hectarem2
  • Client: Home Office, HM Prison Service, Design Council
  • Collaborators: Hilary Cottam; Demos


  • ‘Prisons Today’, in: Diplo Magazine (May 2005), pp.21–22
  • Will Hurst, ‘Champions by Design’, in: Building Design (18 March 2005), p.29
  • ‘A Model Prison’, in: Building Material Issue 12 – Morality and Architecture (October 2004), pp.32–35
  • ‘Model Prisons Revisited’, in: The Architectural Review (March 2004), pp.32–34
  • Catherine Slessor, ‘Penal Progress’, in: The Architectural Review (October 2003), pp.78–81
  • ‘Prison Designs Aim to Cut Re-offending’, in: Building Design (19 July 2002), p.4
  • Erwin James, ‘All Mod Cons’, in: The Guardian (18 July 2002), p.4
  • Zoë Blackler, ‘Buschow Henley Homes in on Radical Rethink for Prisons’, in: The Architects’ Journal (18 July 2002), p.12
  • Benedict Brogan, ‘Public School Blueprint for En-suite Jails’, in: The Daily Telegraph (17 July 2002)
  • Geraldine Bedell, ‘Bedrooms to Replace Cells in Big Brother-style Jails’, in: Observer (14 July 2002)
  • Robert Booth, ‘More “Big Brother” than “Porridge”. Welcome to the 21st-Century Prison’, in: Independent on Sunday (14 July 2002), p.3
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  • ‘Learning Works: The 21st Century Prison’, in: Learning Works: The 21st Century Prison (2002)
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