Wild Design of the Day: A Skyscraper Prison to Rehabilitate Jersey City's Convicts

Two University of Pennsylvania students designed this futuristic, arching prison meant to reduce recidivism rates in New Jersey.

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Greg Knobloch/Andreas Tjeldflaat

Behold the 499.SUMMIT, a concept for a skyscraper prison designed to reduce recidivism rates in New Jersey. Who wouldn't want to be locked up here?

The hypothetical hoosegow sits on top of the PATH train line in New Jersey, making the transfer of convicts from all around the region quick and easy. Inside the arch-shaped building are separate high and low-security cellblocks, a work-release program and a public meeting space. The design, which would slide right in with the alien architecture in Half-Life 2, was actually formed by doing origami on the standard prison's floorplan, as you can see here and then here.

The minds behind the bent-over jail are University of Pennsylvania students Greg Knobloch and Andreas Tjeldflaat, who are trying to tackle the problem of inmates leaving the system without the proper amount of rehabilitation. Two-thirds of inmates in New Jersey wind up back in prison within five years of their release, they say; to help them better adjust to society, they propose giving their tower a tiered system of gradually expanding freedoms. Here's how the students put it:

Our prison system has failed to see advancements throughout the past century and desperately requires innovation and re-imagination. While recent literature begins to question the sociological status of prisons, there has be little exploration of the physical apparatus in which inmates are housed. We as designers must take a critical look at these static institutions, and question how we can play a significant role in the design and function of future prisons.

499.SUMMIT carefully challenges all preconceived notions of the word “prison”, and proposes simple yet powerful ideas that re-imagine the high-rise as an urban penitentiary. The massing consists of three towers in the shape of an arch. The inherent linear and formal qualities of the ‘arch’ allowed us to establish our key circulatory concept: UP, OVER, DOWN. Each arch has three primary phases, Incarceration (up), Transformation (over), and Integration (down). The arches begin isolated during the incarceration phase and merge together both physically and programmatically during the integration phase. As the inmates graduate through the facility, they are being exposed to an increasing degree of social interaction, in order to make the transition back into society as soft as possible. To catalyst this process, public program and residential housing units are introduced in the integration phase downwards.

It's a bold idea and a fierce design. One commenter on Design Boom has compared it to the revolutionary structures of Danish architect Bjarke Ingels. One wonders, though, how Jersey City's residents would feel about the most eye-grabbing thing in town being a prison. See more renderings of the highrise prison below, as well as a video from the duo featuring an inmate named Squirrel. Lower the volume toward the end unless you love Euro disco riddled with laser noises:

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All renderings courtesy of Greg Knobloch and Andreas Tjeldflaat.

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