Rouse Awards – Isabel Painter’s design to improve wellbeing in prisons
3 Nov 2020
Isabel Painter (Upper Sixth) examined how design adaptations could be used to improve wellbeing in prisons as she won the Rouse Artefact Award.
She designed a model for a cell block of the future, having investigated the psychological effect of factors such as space, noise, light and access to the natural environment on inmates’ mental health and behaviour.
Isabel said: “I really wanted to do something related to architecture and psychology. I thought about prisons because it’s a form of architecture that’s often neglected.”
Having reviewed many papers on environmental psychology as part of her research, she explored the layout of prisons and considered such factors when she came to the design side of her project.
She said: “In the UK, prisons are often laid out in a very dense and overcrowded way, so I looked at a prison in Norway called Halden. It’s been designed in a campus style with lots of modular buildings. They have what are almost dormitories with a kitchen, bedrooms and a social space, and they’re basically like communities within the prison. Prisoners are encouraged to walk between buildings and experience nature as well.
“Halden has been considered ‘too nice’ for prisoners. However, it was interesting that reconviction rates in the country were so low, especially in comparison to the UK. It was as if they’d been to this prison and been totally reformed.”
From her findings, Isabel created a doughnut-shaped cell block with glass windows, facing on to a large central courtyard and garden. She also included design features such as sound insulation, having discovered a link between noise reduction and a major drop in violence at Rochdale’s HMP Buckley Hall after all prisoners were given cheap earbuds.
On her design, she said: “I think the whole thing in itself might take a lot of space and be too expensive, but it was more of a theoretical idea. However, there are definitely some elements in there such as soundproofing and greater access to light that could be put into prisons now and in the future.
“It was nice to put together a whole project from start to finish like this – having an idea, working through it, looking into the psychology of space and how it affects people and their behaviours and moods, and ending up with a physical creation.”