Humanizing Prison Architecture

This project by Niharika Sanyal won the best Design Thesis - NIASA Award (2014)
Instructors: Meghal Arya, Uday Andhare
8 September 2016

A vast majority of female inmates across India revert to a life of crime upon discharge from prison. Considering this high rate of recidivism, the penal models in India have changed to accommodate rehabilitative programmes rather than solely punitive ones.


“ In a perverse exercise of

creativity, architects create

penal structures designed

to destroy the personality.”

Derek S. Jeffreys


The aim of this design thesis is to explore the potential of the built environment in creating humanizing spaces that can catalyse positive life processes, by analysing the ‘hard architecture’ of the prison model. The paradoxical relationships between punishment and rehabilitation, freedom and control, normalisation and security, are explored.

The project lends a sensitizing physical environment where individuals may nurture a personal will for self-development through their interpersonal relationships in community formations, through associations with nature and through productive work.

The intent is to question some of the established norms in prison architecture in India, by drawing from references of successful new generation models world-over. Crowded living conditions in barracks and scattered organisational approaches are the key factors that come under scrutiny.

The design’s vertical aspiration – self realisation ascending towards TRANSFORMATION — signifies aspects of learning. It is juxtaposed with its horizontal expression – REINTEGRATION – that seeks to connect with the larger community in the prison complex and the outside world.

By creating community clusters, one fosters a domestic scale of living, creating a place where human relationships based on sisterhood may potentially form, and where dignity is lent to the individual.

The wall functions in binary opposition to this so that the promise of community life is met by the requisite restraints of security. Ways of alleviating the impression of this sense of enclosure are sought through integration with the landscape and the sky. By imparting meaning to the wall as an interface, transitions from barrier intense to barrier free zones are enabled.

One of the key considerations has been to integrate parts so as to communicate a whole (through visual and spatial connections), and find ways to leave more land free for cultivation and communal spaces. As prisons occupy a lot of land and public money in societies, it is crucial to consider this idea further.

Overarching architectural themes of the ground and wall combine with elements of nature, and ideas of community living and learning, to catalyse processes of self-improvement through the built environment.