‘Storstrøm Prison’ by C.F.Møller Architects

Known as the most humane prison in the world, ‘Storstrøm Prison’ is a complex of buildings designed by C.F. Møller Architects like a village, following the Panopticon system, which includes paths and squares outside, creating a de-institutionalised and familiar space that becomes part of the surrounding landscape. Different materials for the façades and bright colours inside, together with the careful design of the spaces, are intended to facilitate the well-being of the inmates and prison staff. Storstrøm Prison is built on the island of Falster, a sparsely populated island 115 km from Copenhagen in south-eastern Denmark. Since the competition, the design goals for this building were to define a high-security prison that would promote the social rehabilitation of inmates through architecture, supporting their mental and physical well-being, and ensuring a serene and pleasant environment for staff. The architecture of confinement spaces is part of an important debate on welfare, which is a particularly relevant issue in Danish society. In Denmark, prisons are built and run by the state, and the commission that evaluated the competition entries also included representatives of the ‘Danish Institute for Human Rights’. In this sense, the studio interprets the prison as a small village, so that the architecture can stimulate the ability to reconnect with society after the period of imprisonment. In addition, the architectural choices configure a pleasant and safe space for the prison staff as well. The village concept for the detention facilities takes up a frequent architectural archetype, which follows the abandonment of the sequence of isolated cells in favour of the presence of common spaces where inmates spend most of their time, under the direct supervision of staff. The high-security wing is used for detainees under special restrictions: this building is surrounded by a wall, and detainees and staff are kept separate.

A cell at Storstrøm Prison

The cells are combined into residential units of 4 to 7 cells of 12.8 m² each, with a toilet, a shower and a kitchen where the inmates can prepare their own food. Each cell is designed to receive light from two windows, overlooking the surrounding countryside: a full-height window and a smaller one on the opposite wall. In addition, the outer walls of the cells are not perpendicular, but angled to improve exposure and natural lighting. On the other hand, the walls bordering the bathroom on the inside are curved so that the staff can monitor the inside of the cells from the door. Each cell has a bed, desk, chair, wardrobe, refrigerator, television: the furniture has been specially designed to reduce corners in order to avoid the risk of knocks and optimise the use of space. Inmates are also free to customise the cells, modifying the beds and choosing the colours. The colour scheme created by ‘Aggebo&Henriksen Design’ used in the corridors and common areas was inspired by the inmates’ tattoo inks. In addition to the outdoor space, the activity building houses basketball, badminton, football and handball courts; in addition, each cell cluster has its own physical activity room. The connections between the buildings consist of granite gravel pathways, coloured white, red and black to define a chromatically dynamic space. The characteristics of the building and the outdoor spaces allow for different scenarios depending on the vantage point, as in a theatre with moving wings. The perimeter walls feature varied finishes that stimulate and enrich the spaces. Inside, the use of bright colours helps the inmates to relax and socialise. Inside the courtyard, a sculpture wall was built to avoid visual contact between cells in different wings. The façades are designed with the aim of diminishing, even from the outside, the institutionalised appearance of the complex; niches and compartments enliven its profile. The materials chosen are light-coloured bricks for the five detention wings, the entrance building and the visitors’ building, while the activities block is clad in concrete and glass panels, and the laboratory building in galvanised steel and concrete panels: these are low-maintenance materials. The complex also houses two works of art: a group of bronze sculptures created by Claus Cartensen, representing a group of people, and a giant sea painting, inspired to John Kørner by ‘A Clockwork Orange’, as a form of visual escapism and reflection. The prison conceived through this project is a complex that can adapt to different types of inmates: it is possible to divide the departments and turn them into larger or smaller sections.

A group of sculptures at Storstrøm Prison

Read more on Kriminalforsorgen.dk