On Gardens and Prisons

Rice University | Profesor Peter Waldman
Project date 1989

First year Graduate project that explores the generation of a public space, in this case a large scale amphitheater garden, by enclosing it within a series of buildings whose typology could serve different uses, a monastery, a school, a hotel, a hospital or even a prison, which in this last case is the purpose of the project and makes the proposition rather perverse. However, this idea also loudly argues that a building per se has no “meaning” and that this “meaning” is assigned by the cultural psychology of the moment. Memory tends to be lost and buildings which might have been designed for torture may later become, luxury hotels.

Another aspect important to the project is the use of the spaces created by large scale infrastructure projects. In the case of this proposal, the building is set up as a flood control system for the Bufallo Bayou in Houston, but the spaces created by the superstructures, are taken advantage of, and programmed to be used as a retention center for processing prisoners.

The experience of isolation vs. public exposure is also addressed in architectural terms and particularly satirizes on our current penitentiary system by transforming the building where cases are processed into an enourmous public theatre proscenium. Astronomical observations are also introduced in the towers above the detention center, where light is captured on specific dates to illuminate small windows, so that the public in the garden can enjoy and wait for the spectacle, or at the same time, from the cells, which are contained in the semicircular building blocks behind the garden, the convicted prisoners can register the passage of time as they serve their sentences.

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