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Halden Prison

It has been said about ancient Rome and its barbaric taste for the gladiators fight until  death, that a society can be known by the nature of how it entertains itself. Another fault  line in society is how it deals with persons who break the law.

Architecture is psychology as space. Nowhere is this as visible as in the social engineering of prisons; that is, the question of whether citizens are taken away for the satisfaction of the surrounding society – revenge – or for re-socialization in order to one day again as a asset to enter the collective of a  Nation.

A prison represents the flip-side of society and is a state-sponsored fortress meant to contain from society what at any given time is judged unacceptable. A prison is the place in  society where tolerance ends and where society as a ultimate measure struggles for its survival by simply taking away individuals whose actions – sometimes only in thought – threatens moral values, other person’s security or even the state  itself.

Michel Foucault shows in his  seminal work, “Discipline and  Punish”, that the objective of citizen-rehabilitation of course is  a reflection of the ideals of any society. The architecture of a prison is in other  words an expression of th self-understanding of for example the Scandinavian Welfare State. A prison is in other word  a vessel for preserving – or even creating – a certain type of humans – a certain culture.

A prime present day example is Halde Prison (2010), which is described in Time Magazine as “Norway Builds the World’s Most Humane Prison”. The philosophy is simple, as Are  Høidal, the prison’s governor, states: “When they (Halden houses drug dealers, murderers and rapists, a.o.) arrive, many of them are in bad shape. We want to build them up, give  them confidence through education and work and have them leave as better people.”

My choice of Halden Prison is an opportunity to ask how a society chooses to represent itself and how this becomes manifest in the public buildings it creates.

Michael Madsen, May 2013

2014 / 3D / 2D
28 min