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Time for reform from Commercial Design Trends volume 2708
Cramped quarters, arrow-slit windows and testosterone-amping communal spaces would draw a negative reaction from anyone. Fortunately, modern prison design is leaving Victorian ideas of harsh punishment and hard labour behind, creating secure environments conducive to a way forward for our most troubled citizens.
Auckland's inner-city prisons redevelopment combines five new buildings with the existing Auckland Central Remand Prison and the historic Mt Eden Prison – forming a single prison entity, the Mt Eden Corrections Facility. The grim stone walls of the old Mt Eden prison – now protected by the Historic Places Trust – has been emptied of its 450 prisoners but remain secure within the perimeter of the new development. Architectural firm Stephenson & Turner was the lead design consultant on the project after a competitive tender process, with Cox Group as specialist custodial architects and planners.
Paul Raven and Malcolm Gardiner, principals at Stephenson & Turner, say that the design process included consultation with the Auckland City Urban Design Panel, Historic Places Trust and representatives of local iwi.
Stage one comprised a 7.5-level carpark for staff and visitors; the Gatehouse, for secure, single-point access for staff, visitors and vehicles; the Visits building and two accommodation buildings, giving a total of 554 beds, says Paul Raven.
"The carpark tower was completed first, making it easier to move around a site that is hemmed in by the operating prisons, a railway, motorway and Auckland Grammar School," says Raven.
"The Gatehouse building next to the car park is where all vehicular and pedestrian traffic is screened – prison buses; prisoners and staff, workers, and visitors."
The reception counter is where preprocessing takes place, much as at an airport, followed by full screening for visitors and staff. A sally port that checks vehicles works in a similar way to an airlock.
Behind this, the four-level Visits building offers a flexible multi-use space, says Malcolm Gardiner.
"Facilities provide for open or non-contact visits, counselling, and interviews. Parole board hearings and video courts also take place here.
"The secure material vernacular of concrete and steel continues, but with a more open look – thick glazing provides both light and safe containment."
Accommodation buildings A and B are highly visible in the close urban setting, but architectural finishes of fritted glass, orange Corten steel and steel struts give them the look of modern office blocks. Signature accents were added on the few painted surfaces – for example, a vibrant green for Accommodation A and a vivid purple on Visits.
One element that greatly improves the prisoner experience and operation of the accommodation buildings is a double-skin exterior cladding system. This provides security and screening from the outside world, but allows diffused sunlight to permeate cells, the exercise pods and central day rooms.
"A service walkway between the core structural concrete exterior wall and the outer glass skin, allows access to all services without the need to enter secure prison areas," says Raven.
Prisoner circulation is also greatly improved in the design. All building exteriors provide a secure line, and all prisoner movements are contained within enclosed, two-way elevated passages and elevators. The dual flow of these elements, coupled with extensive camera surveillance and a staggered gate system, ensures safe, speedy movement of prisoners between the various buildings.
Working within an active prison environment naturally brought construction restrictions, says Campbell Twist, project director for the Department of Corrections.
"Over 4000 people, from construction workers and delivery drivers to designers and consultants, had to undergo an induction process and have site-safe passports, as well as being scanned in and out – the entire site is classified as a secure prison.
"In addition, no cell phones or laptops were allowed onto the site."
The prison manager for the newly formed Mt Eden Corrections Facility is Steve Hall, who works for Serco, the private service company operating the prison under contract to the Department of Corrections. This design is a far cry from the prison architecture of old that was purpose-built to inspire dread. Today's more humane facilities are all about reform, even in a remand setting, and offer safety, containment and hope, says Hall.
"An emphasis on natural light, softer acoustics, and a downplaying of locks and doors all contribute to a design that supports rehabilitation. Each accommodation block includes classrooms, and in many cases cameras replace the need for supervision, freeing up staff to engage more actively with prisoners.
"The design conforms to trends in New Zealand and around the world that see education and fair treatment bringing about individual betterment – to reform our charges, we have reformed our prisons."
New buildings interweave with the old in the new Mt Eden Corrections Facility development, undertaken by Stephenson & Turner.
Mt Eden Corrections Facility, Auckland
Department of Corrections
Mechanical and electrical engineer,
Stephenson & Turner
Miller Design, Thermosash
Glass, steel, Corten steel
Story by Charles Moxham
Photography by Jamie Cobeldick