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Cameron Smith

Big House Inspiration

Posted by on 12/16/13 at 09:59am

During Greenbuild 2013 I had the unique experience of touring the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. A short walk from downtown, Eastern State was the world’s first designed prison intended to inspire penitence and rehabilitate its prisoners through the “Pennsylvania System” of isolation.

Al Capone counted among the notable tenants during ESP’s operating years from 1829 until the very recent 1971.  The original plans called for one-story cellblocks stretching out in a radial pattern from a central guard station.  Each cell was originally accessed only from a rear exercise yard, where prisoners were allowed to garden and even keep pets.  Barn doors to cells along the cellblock halls were added later.  The entire prison is encircled by high and deep walls with security towers;12 prisoners managed to escape, but only 1 remained “at large” following his escape.  The prison was adapted in the 20th century to accommodate overcrowding; roommates were introduced to small spaces, additional cellblocks and second stories were introduced, and even the yards between cellblocks were infilled.  The Pennsylvania System model was copied by prisons worldwide; however, it was proven an expensive layout for nations with a high rate of incarceration, such as the United States.  The U.S. leads the world in incarceration rate – 743 people per 100,000, followed by Russia at 577 per 100,000.

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