Spaces, Poetics and Voids


Simone Pizzagalli

The prison structure was determined by mapping the boundaries of one of the voids, which in turn generated the outline for the volume of the prison building. The prison is located next to the heart of the City, the core of the business district, which was historically an area situated at the edge of the Roman castrum. A sign with the words ‘City Limits’ indicates the specific location and the nature of this anonymous and degraded spot. By situating a prison in this location, an institution usually relegated to the margins of a city has instead been set in close proximity to its very centre, beside the city’s historical and physical borders. Furthermore, the building occupies one of the city’s voids, which has been made conspicuous by transforming the emptiness of a leftover space into a public and communal architecture.


Figure 1. Masterplan.
Shoreditch High Street.

The proposed design expresses values that go beyond the mere logistics of a public building. The architecture of the prison intends to represent and display the true motivations underlying its form. The rationale behind the choice of a penitentiary and its location in the centre of London is related to the idea of a detention centre as a place of recollection and reconstruction of personal ‘narratives’, which would otherwise inevitably be lost and forgotten within the chaos of the city. The prison and its specific location within a void deliberately emphasise ideas of otherness, isolation and rupture with the linguistic disorder of the city, proposing a solution that could correspond to and represent this condition as well as that of its inmates.


Figure 2. View from Shoreditch High Street.

The prison is conceived as a closed and sombrely confined space constituted by a sequence of structural elements that allow a certain degree of communication between the internal world of the prison and the external world of the city, so that the place of reclusion impacts upon the surrounding city community and vice versa. The obsessively reiterated elements of the structure open up towards the city, letting light, sounds, smells and weather into the building. During the design process, some of the notational compositions developed in the mapping sequence were elaborated to generate spatial and volumetric relationships within the building. In the design itself, the idea of spatial storytelling was developed through the arrangement of the parts and the distribution of the spaces, which follow a logic that is not simply functional but primarily narrative. These narrative characteristics represent the different activities and experiences of the prison community, the distorted perception of time passing, the repetitiveness of the prison schedule, the daily movements of the prisoners within the structure, the openness of the building and its relationship with the outside world, all of which offer the inmates the chance to unfold their personal stories.

Figure 3. Small Plans.
Ranging from level -9 m to level +60 m.

Figure 4. Schemes.
Schemes of the prison constituting spaces and elements
The project allows multiplicity and differentiation of spaces within a precise and rigorous structure. Confinement and openness are rendered extreme in the composition of the spaces, where the repeated wall becomes both the unit of measure for a prison cell and for the gaps that allow the visual relationship with the city to occur. The ambiguity between open and closed space, mass and air, the alternation of concrete slab walls with empty spaces, and the grammar of elements that contribute to the completeness and functional performance of the building are represented in a powerful way in the sectional drawings. The structure of the building appears to be homogeneous and undifferentiated yet it is filled with elements, spaces and fragments that are important in the spatial narration, and crucial for the interlinking of the various organisational sequences. The cross section merges, interweaves and overlaps with the floor plan, revealing the continuous unfolding of the slab structure, rhythmically interrupted by voids, spaces and functional elements. The cut is once again the instrument of analysis and investigation of reality. The vertical section reveals the plot and the unfolding of the stories taking place in the building, the relationships and proportions of the volumes, the connected and overlapping sequences, the open spaces and the places of extreme solitude and segregation. The cross section presents an overview of all these narratives, which are contemporaneously displayed as they unfold. The opportunity to browse through the building structure, thanks to the sequenced drawings of the floor plans, provides a clearer understanding of the prison areas and their volumetric relationships, which in turn renders the experience of viewing the representation of the prison as temporal and sequential as the real navigation of the spaces by anyone using the building. The reiteration of the floor plans shows how things can change and develop within a structure which, despite some shifts and modifications, remains unchanged in its character and organisation, still hosting a differentiated composition of spaces. The floor plans describe how a limited alphabet of spaces, volumes and architectural fragments can be arranged to become short sentences within the more complex narration of the building.


Figure 5. Plans.

Figure 6. Sections.

Figure 7. Section.
Looking east.

Figure 8. Isometric
Section of level +24 m

Figure 9. Making the Model.
[08-08-08 till 08-11-08]

Figure 10. The Model.

Figure 11. The Model.

Figure 12. The Model.

Figure 13. The Model.

Figure 14. The Model.


TU Delft / Faculty of Architecture