architect_ Konstantinos Katsas, Sergio Antonio, Emmanuelle Agustoni
location_ Switzerland, Lausanne
project year_ 2016
competition_ 3rd Prize, Prison Puzzle competition

from the architects_   «Borderless Prison» is a proposal based on a territorial approach and successfully combining three essential elements: typology, context and design. The prison as a program takes advantage of the qualities of Arizona’s desert in order to reveal its new nature, liberated from the conventional structures and turning to be border-less. Hence, the immensity of the desert becomes the wall for the borderless prison.

The United States of America are facing a tremendous increase of prisoners resulting overcrowded prisons with poor living conditions as well as high numbers of recidivism. The existing strained and static prison system has to be rethought from scratch. Today, the three principal aspects composing it – the surveillance, educational programs and the follow-up program of each inmate – are not well balanced. Instead, they should all become complementary and equivalent in order to swift from the existing stifling system into a more flexible and evolutionary one.

The project proposes to rethink the national carceral system as a whole, where each prison becomes a machine constituting a new dynamic network of prisons with a progressive ideology. This process aims to prioritize the aspects of education and follow-up of the inmate over the aspect of surveillance. During his sentence, the inmate is moving to different prisons around the country, each one offering different qualities, all aiming for his gradual and successful reinsertion to the society. But how would a site in the desert of Arizona allow the implementation and the operation of a new type of “prison-machine”?

The proposal inserts the line, a landscape device, which ties up the program with the context. The line as a founder gesture manages to reveal the specific conditions of the desert. This strong territorial mark achieves to turn the no man’s land into a specific, measurable and tangible space. As the line touches the ground, it is directly confronted to the existing territorial obstacles and stitches them all together into a single entity. The prison as a program takes advantage of the qualities of the desert in order to reveal its new nature, liberated from the conventional structures and turning to be border-less. The surrounding desert becomes the prison, the distance (10 km) becomes the mean of control and the large surfaces of the desert offer unlimited space for the prison’s activities.

The three fundamental aspects of the prison system can now be found in a completely new form. In terms of surveillance, a linear gradient control is established, offering a succession of zones with different intensity of security. In addition, the presence of a sprawl territorial system of control towers, acting as landmarks, covers the surrounding environment avoiding any physical barriers. A new educational and professional program is pushing the inmates to participate actively to the good operation of the prison and also invest in their personal development, aiming to their future reintegration to the society. Finally, the new prison system considers each inmate individually. In a national scale he evolves through a variety of different contexts and prisons. Being near to the end of his sentence, the “borderless” prison in Arizona offers an environment where he re-learns the basics of the social daily life and is rewarded with a significant freedom.

The materialization of the line in the territory mutates from a hard ground surface to an infrastructure or to a building. The role of the line is to provide the necessary foundations and structure in order to let new life and activities grow in the surroundings. The various patterns generated by the line, such as the agriculture fields, the training grounds or the solar panels installations, are reached by bus and are spread along the line based on the existing territorial conditions. Program such as the cells of the inmates is placed in the most secured zone, in the extremity of the line.

The line is seen as an act to reveal and measure the desert but also as a model to rethink the power, the society and how it operates. The ideological diagram becomes specific in this given context.

Courtesy of the architects