In September 2020, we were appointed by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to develop a Reference Design and four new prisons, where the same common design was applied. One year later, with a mature set of designs near completion, we are delighted with the results. In collaboration with the MoJ, our design team has demonstrated over the past 12 months an ambition to promote the wellbeing of both residents and staff while maintaining a healthy budget. Our Associate Director and Head of Design for the New Prisons Programme, Manuel Cruz, explains how an optimum architectural design can bring rehabilitation benefits to the residents.

There can be no doubt that in today’s world every piece of design work - especially Architecture design - should have the end-user’s wellbeing as a main principle. Certain building typologies like hospitals or airports tend to by their own nature produce high levels of stress in the people who inhabit or use these spaces, although the activities they do in these buildings are normally transitory.

However, a prison is usually perceived as a continuous hostile environment, so it is our responsibility as designers to take this into account and provide architectural designs that reflect a positive environment for effective rehabilitation, while still remaining practical and secure.

When we started working on this project, we had the opportunity to completely redesign the Central Services Hub building, which represents the heart of the prison. This hybrid building provides a variety of functions to the residents such as a medical centre, education facilities, multi-faith areas or a gym, along with facilities for the staff.

With such a complex scope, it was vital for us to design a building that was easy to use by the residents and to operate by the staff. Simple volumes contain the different functions articulated through a central atrium, all at ground level. The staff accommodation is exclusively located at an upper level, keeping a clear segregation between these different categories of end-users.

Additionally, we decided from the beginning to include concepts of biophilic design to enhance the wellbeing of the building users through connections to nature. Large, glazed courtyards are present throughout different parts of the facility to provide a source of natural light and a visual connection with carefully designed landscape areas. These courtyards flood light into most of the interior spaces and assist in creating a calm environment within the building.

Another example are the metal grilles or bars, which are a traditional way to achieve an acceptable level of security within custodial buildings. Nonetheless, we were able to provide a secure facility through the planning of the building distribution while providing extensive areas of barless glass. This approach prevents the institutional aesthetic and promotes normalisation of the spaces to assist with rehabilitation and transition processes into the outside world.

We strongly believe that these efforts to provide a sense of peace and calm, create a positive environment which will contribute to a more effective rehabilitation and resettlement process, while also helping to reduce incidents within these prisons.