Tag Archives: Architecture

Violent and dangerous places? How do prisons come to be the way they are, and how can that change?

By Dominique Moran, University of Birmingham; Jennifer Turner, University of Brighton and University of Birmingham; and Yvonne Jewkes, University of Brighton


John M Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license 2.0

John M Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license 2.0

The first annual report from Peter Clarke, the new Chief Inspector of Prisons warned of a ‘grim situation’ in England and Wales, with prisons ‘unacceptably violent and dangerous places’. Nick Hardwick, the outgoing inspector had previously described the prison system as being in its worse state for a decade. 

Beyond these ‘violent and dangerous’ prisons, these are turbulent times. New Prime Minister Theresa May removed Michael Gove as Justice Secretary, appointing Liz Truss in his place. The departure of Gove, following his prominent and controversial role in Brexit, has drawn additional attention to the criminal justice system, and its challenges in light of this new leadership. Truss says she is under ‘no illusions’ about the scale of the challenge.

Before the EU Referendum in the UK Gove, and the then-Chancellor George Osborne, unveiled a major prison reform programme. It included plans for 9 new prisons ‘fit for purpose’ in the 21st century, and closure old Victorian city centre prisons, selling sites for housing. This was a high-profile policy, championed by then-Prime Minister David Cameron, in the first speech on prison reform by a PM for twenty years, and in the Queen’s Speech, as he announced the ‘biggest shakeup of Britain’s prison system in more than 100 years’. In the post-referendum turmoil, we wait to see how policy will shift, and how much of this momentum will be maintained.

Closely tracking the prison reform programme as it unfolded in parallel with our ESRC-funded project on prison design, we have explored the significance of prison building in relation to geographies of architecture in our recent Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers paper. The paper draws attention to non-iconic, non-utopian, banal buildings – new prisons. It argues that by attending to ‘signature’ buildings, architectural geographies has overlooked the critical and under-explored circumstances and contingencies of more quotidian constructions, neglecting the mundane processes of procurement, commissioning, tendering, project management and bureaucratisation. Advancing scholarship in carceral geography by considering the processes and assemblages that shape (what will become) carceral spaces, it focuses on what happens before a building takes physical form. The paper seeks to move architectural geographies more meaningfully towards a consideration of the bureaucratisation of architectural practice, as underexplored aspects of building ‘events’. It calls for geographers to pay greater attention to the banal geographies of architectural assembly, and to the banalities of production more widely.

There was much to be hopeful about in Michael Gove’s prison reform programme. There was a sense in which Britain had a once-in-150-years opportunity to design a new prison estate with environments that are safe and secure but also sensual and stimulating, for both inmates and staff. In detailing how prisons have been built up to now, our paper pointed out the opportunities that could be presented by working closely with architects to achieve these aims. There is policy flux around Brexit, and economic uncertainty is anticipated, and with our prisons ‘in crisis’, the resolve of government to follow through on prison reform will be tested.

About the authors: Dominique Moran is Reader in Carceral Geography at the University of Birmingham. Jennifer Turner is a Post Doctoral Research Associate in the School of Applied Social Science at the University of Brighton. Jennifer is also an Honorary Research Fellow in the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Birmingham. Yvonne Jewkes is Research Professor in Criminology in the School of Applied Social Science at the University of Brighton. 

60-world2 BBC Prisons ‘in worst state for a decade’, inspector warns 14 July 2015

60-world2 Carceral geography: a geographical perspective on spaces and practices of incarceration 

60-world2 HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales Annual Report 2015-16

60-world2 HM Treasury, Ministry of Justice, The Rt hon Michael Gove MP and The Rt Hon George Osborne MP Prison building revolution announced by Chancellor and Justice Secretary 9 November 2015  

books_icon Moran D, Turner J and Jewkes Y 2016 Becoming big things: Building events and the architectural geographies of incarceration in England and Wales Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers doi:10.1111/tran.12140 (open access)

60-world2Wright O 2016 Queen’s Speech: David Cameron to announce biggest UK prisons shakeup in more than 100 years 17 May 2016

60-world2 Prison Spaces: Fear-suffused environments or potential to rehabilitate? 




The Geography of Higher Education

Harvard Yard in Winter. Wikimedia Commons, 2009.

By Benjamin J. Sacks

May is commencement season in American higher education. Throughout the country nearly 4,000 research universities, liberal-arts colleges, community colleges, and specialty schools will graduate hundreds of thousands of students. It is fitting, then, to highlight the fascinating role geography plays in higher education. The American university model is traditionally designed as an all-encompassing environment for academic life, learning, and society. Most institutions are designed with the following characteristics in mind: a central green, or quadrangle surrounded by administrative, departmental, and library buildings. Surrounding the quadrangle lie dormitories, other libraries, offices, classrooms, and facilities. Finally, sports facilities and grounds are added.

The geographic organization of these buildings in relationship to one other, as well as how they fit in as part of the larger  ‘whole’ of the university, is sweeping in its variety. In a review of Architecture and Utopia, Isaac A. Meir argued that, ‘Envisioning, designing, and building the ideal environment has been part of the human endeavour since time immemorial. The physical setting in which a society functions is perceived a basic determinant of social interaction’ [Geographical Journal 174 no. 2 (June, 2008): pp. 188-189]. American universities, young in comparison to their European and Asian counterparts, were deliberately designed as utopian landscapes. Such visionaries as Frederick Law Olmstead (1822-1903), responsible for the layout of the Stanford University, University of California at Berkeley, and University of Chicago campuses, molded architecture and landscape together to create fabricated geographies. In so doing, university founders determined the nature of social/academic interaction. Frederick Rudolph’s seminal work, The American College and University: A History, remains the most important analysis of the social and economic forces behind American university geography. Peter Kraftl’s ‘Geographies of Architecture: the Multiple Lives of Buildings’ in the May, 2010 issue of Geography Compass provides new, contemporary discussion of the role buildings play in human geography.

Perspectives on university and geography are by no means limited to the American experience. The ancient universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Bologna, Paris, Salamanca, and Vienna, amongst others, grew as an integral part of their urban surroundings. Through gradual expansion concurrent with the development of the community, the geography of the mediaeval university became the geography of the city.

See Kraftl’s analysis of architecture geography in Geography Compass here.

See Meir’s definition of utopias in geography, along with an analysis of its application in Israeli kibbutzim, in the Geographical Journal.

The politics and power of buildings

By Jenny Lunn

Buildings are a part of our everyday lives. We live and work in buildings. We go to buildings for different activities – schools, hospitals, railways stations, supermarkets. Buildings host the machinery of our country – government ministries, banks, law courts. Buildings symbolise aspects of our culture – royal palaces, churches, cinemas, football stadia.

The geographical study of architecture has tended to be a small sub-field of cultural geography. Peter Kraftl’s article in Geography Compass (May 2010) gives an overview of scholarship on this topic, looking at the three main methodologies that have been used by geographers to study architecture and two prominent themes: interest in mobility and movement and the politics of architectural design and practice.

It is the latter that is particularly relevant in the light of the recent BBC documentary Building Africa: Architecture of a Continent (BBC Four, 27 April 2010, 11pm). Architect David Adjaye travelled through Africa looking at the continent’s architectural history and showed how buildings express the interplay between politics, economics and culture.

Whether Dutch colonial buildings in Church Square, Cape Town, such as the former Slave Lodge, or the Art Deco Cinema Impero in Asmara, Eritrea (see picture), which was part of Mussolini’s dream of a modernist city in Africa. Whether the concrete Central Business District in Nairobi – including the 30-storey Kenyatta International Conference Centre – built in 1960s and 1970s which expressed the hope and optimism of newly-independent nation, or recent developments such as the spectacular National Theatre in Accra, Ghana, built in collaboration with the Chinese government. The politics, power and symbolism in Africa’s built environment is a fascinating and worthy topic for geographical enquiry.

Read Peter Kraftl’s article in Geography Compass

Read about David Adjaye’s BBC documentary on African architecture

Neoliberal Urbanisation and New Labour

By Kate Botterill

In a series of reflections on the legacy of New Labour, Jonathan Glancey asks ‘what has Labour done for architecture?’ He claims that since 1997 the Labour party has championed urban regeneration projects and the re-development of many post-industrial cities of the UK into ‘World Class Cities’, with competitive edge and creative promise. The sparkle of these ‘big promises’ for architecture and an ‘Urban Renaisssance’ in British cities, Glancey claims has been marred by mistakes in development approach, favouring centralised power and public private partnerships with big business.

Glancey argues that none of the parties have a handle on architecture and planning in this election and the current process is overwhelmed with too many interests –  ‘on the one hand there are private developers and party-funding big businesses; on the other, a tangled web of quangos, rival government departments, snake-oil design consultants and local councils’, while the interests of local communities and grassroots groups are struggling to be heard.

In an article written during Labour’s first term of office, Swyngedouw, Moulaert and Rodriguez theorise the nature of urban development in the European Union. The piece is a summary of findings of a Europe-wide study of thirteen large-scale urban development projects (UDPs) that were started in 1997 across the EU. They examine whether UDPs are ‘emblematic examples of neoliberal forms of urban governance’ and what effects they have on social inclusion/exclusion and integration.

They argue that UDPs reflect the New Urban Policies that were a feature of governance in the EU, based on principles of ‘exceptionality’, place-specific design, local forms of intervention and flexibility. In practice, they claim that projects using this framework were increasingly fragmented with a multitude of agencies and interests characterised for the most part by diminished responsibility, lack of accountability and selective participation. Eight years later and the efficacy of pluralist approaches to urban policy remain a point of debate and despite the multitude of interests some voices still remain unheard.

View pictures of the architecture of New Labour here

Read Glancey’s article in the Guardian here

Digital clouds and the politics of design

by Matthew Rech

Last week London’s Mayor Boris Johnson announced a competition shortlist of buildings designed to provide the centre piece for the London 2012 Olympic village. Committed to creating a ‘legacy for the East end of London’, and a popular tourist attraction, the designs aim to alter London’s skyline forever (Fildes, 2009).

However, and not forgetting a shortlist allegedly containing designs by former Turner Prize winners, there has been a clear and stand-out forerunner: the ‘Digital Cloud’. Consisting ‘tall mesh towers and a series of interconnected plastic bubbles that can be used to display images and data’, the digital cloud boasts an international team of architects, artists and engineers.

Although the emergence of the cloud as forerunner to the competition undoubtedly rests upon the early publication of design details, this largely unreported announcement may, arguably, hide certain political realities associated with the design, planning and construction of large buidlings in urban centres.

As Igal Charney argues in Area, despite the fact that architectural projects provide cities with identity and aesthetic legitimacy, we must be aware of the power of architiecture in terms of its ability to dictate the future of urban growth. Although many aspects of the digital cloud are extremely admirable (not least the progressive financing plans), the ‘urban re-imagining’ that the cloud implies, must always be sited within the political and economic milieu from which it may finally emerge.

Read Jonathan Fildes’ article at BBC online

Read Charney, I (2007) The politics of design: architecture, tall buildings and the skyline of central London. Area, 39. 2, 195-205

Read more at www.raisethecloud.org