Friday, August 31, 2012

A Separate Peace

A visual exploration of architect John Haviland's ambitious attempt to create a humane, separate system prison structure in early America, and how it ultimately failed.

Eastern State Penitentiary site, Philadelphia.
As a follow up to our previous post, The Executioner's Garden, about the beautiful gardens and other ecological habitats blossoming in remarkable contrast on the perimeters of Philly's hulking, cryptic Eastern State Penitentiary historic site, Designer in Exile went back for a look inside the walls, and to document the landmark's impressive architectural features that are now being preserved. Photographer Andrea Gallo's dramatic pictures truly portray many words, including some tales that seem quite haunting.

View from a cell block. 

Haviland's work included decorative flourishes.

"Eye of God" skylight in early cell designs.

Model of the hub and spoke design with gardens.

Hard time: The design of Eastern State Penitentiary was initially intended to make for an efficient, sensible, humane prison system - one founded thoroughly on the notion of penitence and the Quaker-like belief that prisoners could be reformed if kept separated and in peaceful solitude to consider their errant ways. They were given access to advanced plumbing and sanitation features, and could tend to small gardens in the rear of their cells. However, socioeconomic and political factors eventually lead to the massive structure being recreated into something starkly different. As the machine age of the 20th century churned, the penitentiary became mainly a place for incarceration, hard labor, and severe punishment. The photos below show the dramatic shift to a design aesthetic and prison system influenced by the harsh realities of capitalism in the industrial age.

Cell Block 12: Transforming to industrial age.

An aesthetic akin to functional Brutilism evolves.

Some of the more disturbing aspects have been left untouched at the site as a reminder of humanity's darker side. Notorious Cell Block 14 contained an underground "hole" where behaviorally challenged inmates were said to have been kept for weeks in strict solitary confinement with very little food, water, and light. In addition, more recent examples of detention practices in America have been examined at the former penitentiary, including the replica by an artist of a holding cell at Guantanamo Bay, which serves as a vivid reminder of the controversies of incarceration that remain in our society today.--D.A. DeMers.

Cell Block 14's "hole" for harsh punishment.

Artist replica of Gitmo holding cell.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. All photos by Andrea Gallo via Designer in Exile.  

More info for Eastern State Penitentiary historic site can be found at Up next, we'll examine some lost urban Philly treasures possibly on the rebound. Plus a visit to a local lighting shop for cool vintage lamps. And check in with our sister site, Home Science, for an upcoming chat with an innovative software developer loaded with tools to map and manage green infrastructure sites for local municipalities.

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1 comment:

  1. E.S. had running water before much of the city did. The plumbing system was exceedingly advanced for its time. Philadelphia, for the most part, has always been innovative in terms of providing clean, fresh water and dealing with sanitation issues.

    Kevin O.