This project is both a rhetoric and pragmatic response to the incarceration of asylum seekers. It is a walled refuge located in the old Pentridge Prison site in Coburg, Melbourne.
Currently 50% of asylum seekers detained in Australia or 3rd country processing centres are held in prison style conditions, including women and children. This Architecture of incarceration is designed to oppress human beings. Imprisonment, isolation, constant surveillance and systematic control are tools used to void people of identity, feeling and hope. Prisons are the built manifestation of these tools, they are an architecture of violence towards human beings. The intention of this project is to bring the incarceration of Asylum seekers into conversation and to frame it as an architectural problem.
Locating the site in the Australian suburbs was to make the invisible
experience of detained people visible. To no longer hide away the things we don’t want to see or that we don’t want seen. To be accountable for the actions our society makes. The walls of Pentridge represent a dark symbol of imprisonment that is embedded in Australia’s history and its suburban context. This choice of site was to link the embedded history of the prison with the current treatment of Asylum seekers. A shocking proposition of putting asylum seekers in a prison but in reality a true reflection of what is actually happening.
The 7 storey wall enclaving the site is intended to be a confronting symbol of incarceration, division & control. The scale, austere form and dark prison like windows are an exaggerated expression of the wall and are to impress a sense of discomfort and unease and to make us question how we are treating these people in need. Like the experience of incarceration the wall reduces the person to an insignificant scale, its infinite number of dark windows symbolise the lost identities within a prison and they also give the uncomfortable sense of being under surveillance in a reverse panopticon. The wall represents fear – Fear of the unknown, fear of what we are told to believe. But what are we actually afraid of? What are these walls protecting us from? Who is being protected from who?
‘Is the incarceration of Asylum seekers a direct manifestations of government policy and does that policy reflect our societies ideals and values?’ Are we as a society responsible for these actions and collectively how can we make change? An interesting example is the recent intake of 12,000 Syrian refugees into Australia. This change in policy was instigated from public pressure due to media coverage and the powerful image of a toddler washed up on the beach in Turkey. This shows the influence that public pressure can have on government policy and also shows that to get results our society needs to be shaken by reality, it needs to see these real traumatic experiences that people are going through every day before we will believe it and do something about it. I’m interested in the architectural equivalence of this scenario. Can architecture be used as an agent of change?
The walls of Pentridge also offer the unique typology of the walled city. The wall becomes a condition of refuge, it offers shelter, safety and a barrier from the outside world. The wall is embraced as a place to live in and enclaves a unique urbanism invigorated by communal activity. An intervention that creates a refuge for its inhabitants and a new urban cultural precinct for the surrounding community.
The project is designed to adapt to the government policy of the day and so can operate both as a closed secure facility or as an open community
As both a self contained township and as an integrated part of the wider city the refuge is intended to be a diverse, melting pot of cultures & activity. Like Medieval Roman & Arabic cities the planning is based around a series of plazas with public buildings connected by shop lined main streets.
- Entry Plaza with Admin & the horticulture Therapy Centre.
- Sports Centre
- The main plaza with Town Hall
- Arts & Craft therapy centre with connected parks
- Plaza & Religious Centre
- Education centre & playground
- Medical & Mental Health Services
This civic spine re-establishes the importance and hierarchy of civic and cultural buildings and provides public space for cultural engagement and
celebration. Housing is defined by the medium density condition of the wall and the infill of the ground plane. The housing strategies employed are based on examples of urbanism with strong community interaction and participation. The wall is a vertically angled adaption of the Shanghai Lilong with main streets connecting the ground plain to the roof with apartment lanes coming off them. The clusters of connected 2-3 storey houses in the central area of the site are an adaption of the Arabic medina with main streets between clusters, smaller laneways between buildings and semi private communal courtyards that service each cluster. Stairs and community space on upper floor levels provide roof top activity and service spaces. The housing has been designed to remove the possibility of intrusive surveillance but allows for community based methods of passive surveillance and childcare.
Through taking this project on I have experienced the complexity & difficulty of working with such a relevant and contentious issue. The intention of the project wasn’t to find a solution to the issue of incarceration but to use architecture to make us question societies values and actions. I think I project like this is most successful if it splits peoples views and opinions and creates a conversation about the issue.