Carceral Architectures

With the exception of the Haitian Revolution, the French and Americans failed to put an end chattel slavery after their respective revolutions, despite the fact that its logic ran against the grain of modern democracy’s values of self-determination and natural rights. As self-governing, democratic nations formed—no longer under divine rule of monarchies—new civic architecture needed to be designed and built, including prisons, an integral part of the judicial functions of the new government. But the presence of Europe’s Others in the United States—Native Americans, as well as, and more specifically, freed and enslaved blacks—complicated how prisons were designed and utilized, and how the newly constituted democratic values of America clashed with its slave-based economy.


The essay "Carceral Architectures" appears withing the archives of eflux architecture's Superhumanity project that "seeks to explore and challenge our understanding of 'design' by engaging with and departing from the concept of the “self.” Superhumanity aims to probe the idea that we are and always have been continuously reshaped by the artifacts we shape, to which we ask: who designed the lives we live today? What are the forms of life we inhabit, and what new forms are currently being designed? Where are the sites, and what are the techniques, to design others? Over fifty writers, scientists, artists, architects, designers, philosophers, historians, archeologists and anthropologists will bring new insight to these and related questions." Superhumanity responds to Mark Wigley and Beatriz Colomina's question "Are We Human?" the theme of  Istanbul's  3rd Design Biennial. It was coedited by Nicolas Hirsch, Anton Vidokle, and Nick Axel. A Superhumanity reading room was exhibited from October 22 to November 20 at DEPO (Tütün Deposu Lüleci Hendek Caddesi No.12, Tophane 34425 İstanbul) as a part of the 3rd Istanbul Design Biennial.


Read "Carceral Architecture" 

This “space of Otherness” line of nonhomogeneity had then functioned to validate the socio-ontological line now drawn between rational, political Man (Prospero, the settler of European descent) and its irrational Human Others (the categories of Caliban [i.e. subordinated Indians and the enslaved Negroes])… 
—Sylvia Wynter


In 2014 the San Francisco-based Architects/Designers/ Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR) requested the American Institute of Architects (AIA) to adopt a rule prohibiting architects from designing buildings for the purpose of execution, torture, or solitary confinement. An estimated 80,000 prisoners currently live in some form of solitary confinement, including those housed in “supermax” prisons designed specifically to segregate. Not only are black and Hispanic men and women disproportionally represented in the prison population, but they are also disproportionally represented among those sentenced to solitary confinement. ADPSR was unequivocal in its stance that spaces purposefully designed to facilitate cruel, inhumane, and degrading acts should not be sanctioned by the profession and are “fundamentally incompatible with professional practice that respects standards of decency and human rights.” The AIA declined their request to amend their Code of Ethics (although the organization is currently reconsidering its initial response). Given that architecture is one the least racially diverse professions in the United States—according to the Department of Labor, 80% of architects are white—it comes as little surprise that an effort to ban the design of spaces for the unethical treatment of a largely black and brown incarcerated population would fail.


Prison Map is a website and database designed to archive aerial shots of the prisons throughout the US and map its geography of incarceration. This project is developed by Josh Begley.