Within the research gathered during the compilation of the Feasibility Study the common thread throughout was the importance of interaction in ensuring the success of the rehabilitation process. This interaction can appear in many guises, be it through staff/prisoner, prisoner/visitor or prisoner/public interaction.
To encourage, harness and enhance this interaction will not only expediate the rehabilitation process, but will increase public awareness of the potential ‘good’ within individual prisoners and promote the steps being taken to increase the rate of successful reintegration and reduce the rate of re-offending.
The design proposals show the possibilities of using the building as a catalyst for interaction.
The aspiration to do this through the design led to the incorporation of public routes passing through the site, encouraging interaction to take place. To ensure that the routes were used and became practical public space, the space would require a purpose. This has been satisfied by incorporating a new direct access to the railway platforms running below the site via escalators off the new public plaza, this would form part of the proposed redevelopment of New Street Railway Station currently being finalised. Ticket machines, a cafe and a public ‘tv viewing’ area are also located off the central plaza to increase its overall appeal.
The philosophy of both the institution and brief are unique and aim to reinterpret the roles of prisons in modern society. Likewise it is felt that the architecture should reinforce this. A deconstructivist approach was used to form the aesthetics of the scheme, portraying the philosophy of the facility in transforming the stereotype of a closed, unwelcoming, solid institutional building by pulling the different elements apart and bringing them back together in a unique and unprecedented way. This was then developed into a folded form to represent the different parts being part of the same ‘new’ whole.
The skin represents the enclosed nature of a penal institution. Where appropriate the skin has been trimmed, torn or folded to reveal both the internal to the public and the external to the prisoners. This has been done in areas where increased interaction is encouraged as part of the rehabilitation process.
Project Type: Academic
Programme: Social / Institutional
Size: 5000+ sqm
Location: Birmingham, UK
Year: December 2008
The materiality of the building is equally as unique as the brief, in both its use and in type. The core materials expressed externally make a statement about the stereotypical views of a penal institution and the aspirations of what this scheme endeavours to do to transform those preconceptions.
The majority of the project will express its structure externally through untreated exposed concrete. This shares, as well as represents, the traditional view of prison inmates in that people see it as cold, ugly and it can be associated with lower class areas and developments. The prisoner living accommodation is formed from this for that reason, in that it is the most secure and least interactive part of the building for security reasons. The treatment is continued throughout the facility as the base material, ending ultimately at the public cafe, with the forms of the concrete gradually becoming more expressive and exciting along the journey. This aims to represent the revealing of this type of institution to the general public and the fact that something that you once thought completely devoid of worth, can actually become interesting, exciting and desirable.
Copper is a material often traditionally associated with buildings of power or control such as religious or educational institutions. In this situation a copper rain screen is used and it wraps around the two accommodation towers, representing the additional security of these areas and the tradition of hiding these types of institutions from public view. The copper cladding is repeated throughout in situations where a feeling of insecurity could be higher than elsewhere, be that for fear of heights, God, or the prisoners themselves for example. Copper relates back to the philosophy of the facility as well, as it is also a material that changes over a period of time when exposed to natural elements and encapsulates the idea of the prisoners being able to change through exposure and interaction with the public.
The areas where interaction is encouraged most or security is least required contain large expanses of transparent and translucent glazing or mesh to increase the feeling of openness and freedom. The openings run across walls, roofs and floors, revealing seams and creating exciting forms representing the traditional layers of distrust and ignorance being pulled apart and folded back.
Finally the lighting on the facility would be crucial. The public areas would be strategically lit, particularly the pedestrian walkways and the railway platforms to provide a feeling of security and safety, almost in the same way the copper does metaphorically. The towers themselves would be backlit from behind the rain screen to provide a ‘glowing’ effect. The colour of this lighting would be programmed on a predetermined cycle over a long period of time with the colours slowly morphing night by night. This again would represent the prisoners ability to change over a period of time and symbolise the cycle of prisoners entering, progressing and ultimately leaving the facility as a changed person.