ARC 331 Forum 02: Social Reform (Group 3)

ARC 331 Forum 02: Social Reform

Having engaged with the basic material provided for this lesson, study your assigned project (the Kirkbride plan or Eastern State Penitentiary). Each pair in the group will have different functions, all contributing to the forum as a whole.

  • Eastern State: Pletcher, Rodriguez, Rogers, Romero, Rutter, Starcevich

Blue names

  • by Saturday midnight, provide a brief (150-200 word) assessment on the subject. In short: did it work? What impact did it have on the population housed within it? Make sure to provide a brief note explaining where you found your information.

Green names

  • by Monday at 1 PM, add to the conversation begun by your peers. How can you clarify or challenge their ideas? How do the ideas embedded in these nineteenth-century plans compare with more recent ideas you can find about architectural solutions to the initial problem (incarceration or treatment of mental illness)?

Purple names

  • by Wednesday at 1 PM, review the contributions of your colleagues and provide summative thoughts that draw the conversation to a conclusion, or, if appropriate, what new ideas or questions are raised in the forum?


  1. Reply
    Abacuc Rodriguez January 26, 2019


    The Eastern State Penitentiary was opened in 1829 in Philadelphia and closed in 1971. This prison brought forth a new type of prison system to the world. Prior to the Eastern State Penitentiary jails were big open spaces where all the inmates would be put together. I did not matter what race, gender, or crime you committed because all prisoners were grouped together. The Penitentiary did not want to just punish prisoners, but wanted to move them towards spiritual reflection and change. To accomplish this, the Penitentiary incorporated a separate prison system. This design had a central rotunda that would have prison blocks branch out from the rotunda. These prison blocks would have individual cells that would hold one prisoner per cell. Along with these changes, overcrowding also started to occur. While initially the Penitentiary seemed to be successful, towards the end the prison became extremely dangerous. Initially it seemed like the prison was accomplishing its goal, but the belief that overcrowding was a problem lead to its closure. However the system that was described here seems to have influenced modern day prisons and I see many similar aspects.

    Information found from Eastern State Penitentiary video

    • Reply
      Andrew Rogers January 27, 2019

      As stated previously, the jail was a great idea, but it didn’t exactly do what they expected. Having the separation of inmates seemed like a good idea, but it led to other problems such as overcrowding. Overcrowding is a problem we see in jails today as well. Many people have different arguments on how to fix the overcrowding we see today. Some people believe that people should not be put in jail for things like marijuana and some people think that there should be more use of the death penalty. I’m curious what people at that time thought of the overcrowding. The death penalty was being used less, but I’m curious if people thought that it should be brought back. We see similar designs of jails today which could be part of the reason for overcrowding. Although, we can all agree that it is wise to separate inmates. At least by category. Men and women should not be held together, and murderers and debtors should not be together. Though this jail design was deemed unsuccessful and lead to an eventual closure. It still had aspects that have been successful and used in jails today.

      Eastern State Penitentiary video

      • Reply
        Caleb Rutter January 30, 2019

        It is evident that there is still an uncertainty in how to handle the designs of prisons/penitentiaries. It is also unclear as to whether or not that will actually address the social problems (the reason we need prisons in the first place). We see an evolution of prisons as a response to the outweighing negatives of previous designs, but should our focus be elsewhere? Pugin believed that the church could bring about social reform, but in today’s society the church has less and less influence. Can overcrowding and other issues that come with penitentiary design be reduced by a refocused mentality on how Christianity plays a role in social reform?

        • Reply
          Abacuc Rodriguez February 9, 2019

          Caleb you make some very strong points and pose some very interesting questions. You mention that in today’s society church has less influence and I would agree with that. So I do not see how we can reduce the issues that prisons face by taking it in a more Christian mentality. If today’s society is influenced less and less by religion, how can Christianity reduce the issues prisons face?

      • Reply
        Andrew Rogers February 7, 2019

        Let me reiterate my comment of success in these jails. Eastern State Penitentiary had a design to separate the inmates. This ideas and design is successful because it makes the most sense and it is still used today. The problem was that it leads to overcrowding.

    • Reply
      Diana P Romero January 30, 2019

      I agree with how you mention that modern prisons have kept the same some of the features that this new jails had. Instead of being so small and crowded, the seclusion of inmates promoted and still promotes the time for reflection and reform. Even though this prisons were intimidating from the outside, and very isolated on the inside, the prisoners still found a way to communicate with each other throughout pipes and more. This can still be seen in the modern prisons, prisoners still fins their ways to have contraband inside prisons. The architecture of this buildings improved the surveillance of the guardians because of how it was design, making incarceration less problematic for the guardians and for the same safety of the inmates. Later on, problems as abuse of power were shown by the guardians of the same prison, but this really has not much to do with the architecture of the building, but in the feeling of power. The prison itself did accomplish its function of keeping the inmates secluded as you mention but also the way it was constructed started to cause problems for the inmates to live there because of the conditions. Sometimes too cold or too warm, or the plumbing would not function properly causing damaging gases to affect the prisoners

  2. Reply
    Jarod Pletcher January 26, 2019

    The Eastern State Penitentiary experiment was not the rousing success that its founders or its architect were hoping that it would be. While the old method of housing those placed in prison in one large jail room did not work and in many ways encouraged further illegal activity, the solitary confinement method for which Eastern State was designed did not greatly improve the recidivism rate. The idea of a prison system which gave convicts time for personal reflection and personal space was a novel idea, but the complete isolation for which this prison was designed caused much more harm to the prisoners than good. People are not meant to be cut off from other people to the degree that was required by the design of Eastern State. To the architect’s credit, the penitentiary does provide certain amenities that many houses of the time lacked like heat and running water, and the prison was designed with the intention of being a place that might rehabilitate a criminal. Today, however, the prison serves as lesson for those reevaluating the incarceration and rehabilitation process in America.
    Source: Bowditch, Christine. Eastern State Penitentiary: A Documentary. (1998)

    • Reply
      Andrew Rogers February 7, 2019

      You mentioned in your post ‘people are not meant to be cut off from other people to this degree.” I think we can agree that separating criminals by crime or age is reasonable and should be done. The problem that I think we are both seeing is that we can not isolate them. In jails today when people are waiting for trial or sentencing they are sometimes placed into rooms with a 3-5 people. I am curious if this is a solution to overcrowding or if they do this because they agree with your statement that people should not be separated unless its necessary.

    • Reply
      Elizabeth Van Bruggen February 9, 2019

      It is interesting that you mention how the idea of reflection is a novel idea and I wonder if this system of imprisonment would have worked better if there was good separation of types of criminals and then time that those criminals were able to see and talk to each other even if they were say unable to touch each other?

    • Reply
      Caleb Rutter February 9, 2019

      I think this raises good points, like Dr. Amundson said, about the fundamental problems that architects ran into for both design style of prisons (grouped or isolated prisoners). It makes me wonder if there is a actual solution for looking for rehabilitation? Can architecture have a say in how people act/react or is it fully the responsibility of social problem solvers like therapists or the church?

  3. Reply
    Max Starcevich January 29, 2019

    While there is much to be said about Eastern State, I think it may be helpful to note some of the many takeaways. First, it is clear that humans can make futile even the best intentions. Though the Quakers’ starting ideas were noble (but severely flawed), the implementation of their ideas was horrifying. Second, the contrast between early British-based jails and the separate system reinforces the idea that theory is prone to extremes. One extreme, the British-based jails, allowed too much human interaction which resulted in wanton behavior. The other extreme, Eastern’s separate system, prohibited not only all human contact, but all interaction with God’s creation. Thirdly, architecture that is imposing or intimidating does not necessarily dissuade crime. Of course it is hard to quantify such a thing, but the consistent increase in inmate population at Eastern suggests that the crenellations and heavy stone walls did little to deter crime.

    There are also a few general topics that stood out to me. As Andrew pointed out, Eastern State is a good example of why women and men should not be imprisoned together. To go one step further, I wonder if men should be allowed to be guards at women’s prisons. There is certainly good reason when one considers violent offenders, but there is also a power gap between the inmates and the guards that can, and, as seen at Eastern, will be exploited.

    As Abacuc mentioned, belief that overcrowding was too severe led to the shutdown of Eastern State. However, I question the idea that overcrowding should be grounds for not isolating prisoners. If solitary living is only a problem because of overcrowding, we could simply build larger prisons. I think we would then see that the root of the problem is not a lack of space, but an inhumane way of living. This is my opinion, but forcing someone to live inside of a building for 23+ hours a day is a crime. How can someone learn to behave properly in a society where being outside is common when they learn to function within a small room?

    • Reply
      Jarod Pletcher February 9, 2019

      Max, what you said about imposing and intimidating architecture not dissuading crime was an interesting comment. I agree with you that it was likely not effective in reducing crime through intimidation, since the population at Eastern State continued to rise. I do wonder though, if its imposing nature was effective in projecting safety to the surrounding residential community. The fortress nature of the architecture possibly demonstrated to those that lived right around the prison that prison breaks would be unlikely due to the strength of the facility.

      I also believe that true reformation in prisons occurs by learning to work with others, inside and outside of the prison. Solitary confinement has been proven to the dangerous to the mental health of people, and they cannot learn to cooperate in broader society, when confined to a single cell 23 hours a day. Prison plans today should reflect this by providing a variety of spaces, public and private, for inmates, but the programs that reeducate and reform the population is far more important than the architecture that confines them.

  4. Reply
    JhenniferAmundson February 1, 2019

    1. Jarod & Abacuc , I appreciate you getting to two of the functional issues of the place that led to its demise: both the overcrowding and also the problems inherent in solitary confinement.
    2. Andrew, given your varied discussion, I wonder how you describe “success”? & Diana, given your consideration of later developments, what do you think of the achievements of prison design, 19th & 20th c.?
    3. Caleb, excellent points, and they raise the issue too: what is the goal of these buildings? For people who do not believe in redemption, they are warehouses. Others look to design and programming to help. Which is most influential after the fact, or, before, as you suggest a wonderful question: how do we avoid the need for so many prisons? Max, you seem to put more of a priority on the architectural solution :is it a matter of allowing people to get out of buildings more frequently, or is something else at the root of your concerns?

    • Reply
      Max Starcevich February 7, 2019

      Dr. Amundson, I don’t think I am putting a priority on the architectural solution because, as I noted in the first paragraph of my comment, “humans can make futile even the best intentions.” In my opinion, there is no such thing as an “architectural solution.” Using Eastern State as an example, it is clear that architecture cannot solve social problems alone, as human sin is always a factor. I would hesitate even to say that good architecture is a requisite for solving social problems simply because one can find anecdotes of wonderful social reform and community happening within the darkest of living conditions. However, while not a requisite for solving social problems, I think architecture can be both a reflection of, and a nurturing environment for social reform.

      It is only within that context that I addressed the architecture. From the architect’s perspective, I recognize that while a formal architectural adjustment won’t solve any sin-borne problem, it can help protect the defenseless and allow the possibility of healthy living.

      It is tempting to discuss what went wrong socially at Eastern State. Why were the guards so cruel? Why was the Quaker’s Christianity effectively devoid of compassion, regardless of its original intention? Could better training and hiring processes of prison officials have resulted in a constructive and reformed prison population? How much did racism affect the inmates? These are all good questions for architects and non-architects to ask and we need to be aware of them. However, the discussions surrounding these social topics are vast and a person could spend a lifetime testing and discussing ideas. This is why I focus on the architecture itself: It is what I know and am called to. This isn’t to say I can’t be involved in the other areas of questioning, but instead that I won’t be able to be constructively involved in those other areas of questioning unless I first understand the architecturally specific problems.

    • Reply
      Caleb Rutter February 9, 2019

      It definitely was an interesting building type to address and something like prisons has a wide range of areas in life that it impacts. The most obvious, and most discussed in this class, is how the architectural design may have an influence and how it responds to society, and in this study American society. But this also makes me think of a movie we had to watch for my philosophy class at Judson which goes into the development of prisons in the context of racial inequality and injustice. As what could be seen or interpreted as a racist response to the freeing and equality of African Americans, a steep increase in the number of incarcerations was seen, mainly being filled by minorities. It makes me think about how this development is much more than a response to what the architecture was doing for society, it is a response to what we were doing in America. It makes me wonder how that may have carried down into our current society and if that is something we can even reverse?

    • Reply
      Diana P Romero February 12, 2019

      I think that the the prison’s design reflect what architects did in order to solve an organizational problem. Even though the design of the prison did solved problems as over crowded cells, too much interaction between prisoners and some of the hygienic problems, the real issue became to appear later on with the behavior of the guards from the same prison; they became very rude to the prisoners. The prison did accomplish its goal, but later on the inmates discovered ways to communicate with each other through pipes. I don’t blame the design of this jail for this, but the limitations that buildings had in that time regarding the way that plumbing or heating and in what way they had to work.

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