Penitentiary Architecture vs Olympic Architecure

January 27, 2008

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UP: JOHN HAVILAND (?), Easter State Penitentiary, Philadelphia, USA, 1821, @easterstate

DOWN: SANTIAGO CALATRAVA, Athens Olympic Sports Complex Arch, 2004, Marousi, Greece, @calatrava

UP: Opened in 1829 as part of a controversial movement to change the behavior of inmates through “confinement in solitude with labor,” Eastern State Penitentiary quickly became one of the most expensive and most copied buildings in the young United States. It is estimated that more than 300 prisons worldwide are based on the Penitentiary’s wagon-wheel, or “radial” floor plan.

Some of America’s most notorious criminals were held in the Penitentiary’s vaulted, sky-lit cells, including bank robber Willie Sutton and Al Capone. After 142 years of consecutive use, Eastern State Penitentiary was completely abandoned in 1971, and now stands, a lost world of crumbling cell blocks and empty guard towers.

After many years of lobbying from the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons, the Pennsylvania Legislature approves in 1821 funding to build the Eastern State Penitentiary. The new prison will hold two-hundred fifty inmates.

Four architects submit designs for the massive new prison. John Haviland, a British architect who had settled in Philadelphia, wins the commission. He receives a one-hundred dollar prize for his design. Rival architect William Strickland, whose design had been rejected, is chosen to oversee the construction.

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