ACC Lectures 2024 | Lecture 02 | Gabriele Stancato

Confined Spaces: A Journey Through Architectural Representations of Detention

This lecture explores the evolution of penitentiary spaces, examining their architectural representations and their impact on individuals, society, and urban landscapes. It investigates the intersections of detention spaces with societal boundaries and delves into the intricate relationship between confinement and the city, exploring its effects on physical and mental aspects.

The lecture traces a historical trajectory of design choices representing specific conceptions of control and justice implemented through confinement, and identifies the issues that led to the abandonment of architectural research in Italy after the seventies, despite its pioneering status at that time. These concepts are further developed within a structured system of territoriality and privacy, allowing the spatial identification of control elements over an environment.

Ten case studies after 2001 are presented to illustrate their architectural qualities and highlight spatial articulations based on privacy categories identified earlier. Tools from Space Syntax Analysis are employed to objectively verify the topological divergence of privacy levels, thus revealing opportunities to express individual freedom at different levels, identifiable in the comparison between contemporary case studies and more renowned precedents.

Gabriele Stancato is an architect with a Ph.D. in Architecture Theories and Project from Sapienza – University of Rome, specializing in parametric design since 2012. His research focuses on reconciling security solutions with human rights, notably through participatory planning with inmates. Currently, he is a research fellow at Politecnico di Milano, in the Laboratorio di Simulazione Urbana ‘Fausto Curti’.


22 thoughts on “ACC Lectures 2024 | Lecture 02 | Gabriele Stancato

  1. Bianca Carmen Martinica

    Professor Gabriele Stancato interprets the concept of limit in architecture through the confinement of the body in space. The places of detention, or prisons are used as an example to see how the body has been limited to interact with environment and with other bodies.
    Some example of prisons from the 17th century show us prisoners were kept in prisons where control was the biggest factor. Bodies were exposed as much as possible to the control guards and they were not given any privacy. Slowly in time prison have moved to different architectural layouts that included open spaces and social and collective spaces where interactions could happen.
    The most contemporary prison architecture expands the concept of detention by creating a well designed privacy gradient where prisoners can live a life as similar as possible to their normal life. A prisoner moves through spaces with different privacy gradient as far as being able to leave the confined space and living without surveillance

  2. Melisa Domanic

    I found the topic very interesting since it is not a topic we discuss within the university often. I appreciated the lecturer’s approach of starting with the history of the prison architecture to give a backgorund information on the existing experiments to explore which prison designs could work or fail. It was also very intriguing to see the evolution of prison designs worldwide. The lecture also made me question a lot different concepts such as punishment, justice, privacy, society, inclusivity and rehabilitation. In addition to that, during the q&a session, the lecturer has changed the meaning of prisons in the minds of some of us, by talking about the real function of prisons, apart from what people actually think of them. I believe that taking more time to explore the design principles of prisons would be even better. I think so because I struggled to understand how the design of certain prisons can ensure the security and control of inmates. But overall, the presention was very interesting and mind-opening. In my opinion, it is very essential for an architect to think about the concepts mentioned during the lecture.

  3. Cheung Ka Yu

    The lecture of Prof. Stancato on the architectural design of prisons presents a compelling narrative of the evolution of carceral spaces, highlighting significant shifts from mediaeval concealment to modern emphasis on rehabilitation and societal integration. The incorporation of a privacy gradient, moving from public to private spaces within prison environments, reflects a nuanced understanding of inmate psychology and the importance of mitigating potential psychological issues associated with confinement.
    The utilization of space syntax to measure privacy gradients and visibility throughout the prison illustrates a thoughtful approach to design that prioritizes both security and human well-being. The emphasis on low-rise structures, decentralized control systems, and the promotion of social activities over strict surveillance signifies a departure from traditional punitive models towards more humane and effective carceral practices.
    Moreover, the integration of ample outdoor spaces, removal of high walls, and elimination of solitary confinement underscore a commitment to reducing isolation and fostering community within prison settings. The decision to rename prisons to mitigate stigma further demonstrates a progressive mindset aimed at promoting rehabilitation and reintegration. Overall, the lecture underscores the pivotal role of architectural design in shaping the experiences and outcomes of incarcerated individuals, advocating for a more compassionate and effective approach to incarceration.

  4. Devanshi Thakuriya

    The lecture presented a very diverse perception of an architectural building typology prison. It was fascinating to witness how the meaning and design planning of prisons changed from being mere places of isolation and detention to being more optimistic in their surroundings trying to rebuild the inmates’ emotional well-being. It was amusing to see prisons’ new vocabulary becoming very much like a city space offering different means of within prison community engagements. The lecture truly questioned the limits of architecture in the sense of how it has a vital role to play in places of detention through catering to not just physical environment of a person but also their emotional well being and their spiritual upliftment. Architecture thus, is explored on a more rudimentary level considering its effects and impact both on micro scale as well.

  5. Jacqueline Siega

    During centuries the concept of prisons is changed in society. From confined spaces of physical punishment, prisons became temporary places in which re-educate criminals and find a new way to reconstruct relationship between prisoners and society. A renovate consideration of inmates is reflected in the conception of prisons (remotion of central control, design prisons as small town, no repetition of the same blocks). Today in contemporary prisons we can see a differentiation of spaces (private room, collective spaces, space of relationship, green areas) and the introduction of privacy gradient as something very important to psychophysical well-being of inmates. The increase of level of privacy as articulation of spaces is very important to obtain the image of future prisons as space of relationship between person and society, in which there are no walls and internal spaces more fluid. Prisons in the future could become a new architectural fact and perfectly inserted in the contemporary city.

  6. Doga Dagci

    Starting the presentation with the history of prisons and explaining how the prison concept has evolved over the years by giving examples, gave us the opportunity to see how these structures which are important in terms of architecture, have improved over the years. We saw the evolution from structures that were seen as warehousing prisoners, such as the Mamertino prison, to structures like the Mas D’Endric Center or Apac Santa Luzia, which are focused on reintegrating people into society and have different motivations even the prisons without railings. It was interesting to see the real life example of the prison model in the movie Brazil, one controller can see everything where is the middle of the structure and in power, while no one see it, Panopticon, and its reactions on human beings with data. This conference made me think again about deterrence, punishment, revenge and justice. And it was a concrete illustration of the development of the human conscience over time.

  7. Eisra Kamal Mahgoub Suliman

    This lecture which was held by professor Stancato opened my mind to different aspects about the evolution of prison structures and spatial design over time. Beginning with medieval dungeons and transitioning to the panopticon design of the 18th century, the lecture highlights how architectural concepts have shaped the prison system. Then the shift towards more humane prison designs in the 19th and 20th centuries, focusing on rehabilitation and reintegration of inmates into society. The professor also delved into the modern era, where prisons are built with a focus on security and efficiency. Finally, the division of spaces according to the level of privacy and typology of activities held within the space gave a more explanatory view of the prisons’ system, where the designers started to consider the idea of giving the inmates a freedom and taking into consideration their mental health by providing green spaces and a wider view towards outside atmosphere.

  8. Fabrizio Bosco

    The architect Stancato showed through several examples of prison construction, that architects can give a big impact to the social development but especially psychological of prisoners, if institutions allow it. Initially the concept of prison was had a meaning and a limit in its walls, and then gradually evolved into a concept of control and power. With the advent of modernity, through the study of interpersonal spaces, a new point of view opens, more focused on the individual and his rehabilitation to allow him to reintegrate as a new citizen. In this phase the concepts of “limit” are expanded: the concept of lived space changes, the way of conceiving the prison itself not as a punishment but as a way to improve, the increase in value that the prison itself has on the territory and for society. The example of Apac Santa Luzia is the most modern representation to which the conception of prison has come for now, which in this case overturns its meaning of the word.


    It was a very informative lecture and I was impressed by seeing the evolution of prisons from sunless, poor ventilated dungeons in the medieval to 18th-century prisons for keeping people in isolation and silence, or, in other words, for gradually pushing them to suicide, to the modern concept of division the space according to the level of privacy and type of activity, from a single room or shared room to the social gathering saloons and courtyards with plantation and sports fields. To me, it was also very fascinating to understand how much architects are influential in the way in which people live their daily lives. In this term, design is not just a consideration of beauty or rules, but the architect needs to imagine themselves as the customers (in this case inmates) and see what they are supposed to see, touch, and experience for years of their lives and try to create more peaceful solutions. As we saw in the lecture, in the new approach architects come up with ideas of prison as a village to which inmates can commute freely. There are no guards but just some volunteers who control the village.

  10. Giulia Barros Lemes

    Professor Gabriele Stancato proposes a discussion on the topic of traditional and modern prisons debating how can architecture serve as a tool in this typology of buildings. In his view, architecture in this scenario works as a limit either to the freedom of prisoners or to the control of the power over these people. Stancato brings up multiple examples of how the typology of prison buildings was transformed over time and how the understanding of these places changed from a punishment environment to a space of reconnection with society in which the role of architecture is also political. With his presentation, more and more we discover how the modern building typology of prison, now with also this term in discussion, should act as a mirror to society in order to create citizens instead of isolated people. Finally, Professor Lancato points out the importance of considering human aspects in this type of design, where the control system can be limited and attention is given to different levels of privacy and freedom.

  11. Angela Dalia

    Ho trovato molto interessante la conferenza del professore Stancato, partendo dall’analisi di edifici penitenziari, interpreta il concetto di limite in architettura attraverso il confinamento del malcapitato all’interno di uno spazio circoscritto , che per sua natura è stato concepito proprio per porre questo limite tra lui e la società. Con l’osservazione e l’analisi attenta ai concetti di spazio personale spazio sociale e spazio condiviso, i nuovi edifici vengono costruiti focalizzando l’interesse sull’individuo e sulla sua riabilitazione, per riprendere in “mano” la sua vita di cittadino dopo questo periodo di detenzione. Oggi possiamo vedere che attraverso l’introduzione di gradienti di privacy si possa valutare il grado di benessere psicofisico dei detenuti e migliorare a livello architettonico questi luoghi in equilibrio tra libertà e controllo e tra privacy e sicurezza.

  12. Gauri Manoj

    The lecture was very intriguing in terms of both the topic and the approach. Generally, prisons or detention centers do not top the list when we think of designed spaces. It is maybe one category where we think of spaces as ones that restrict users for the idea of punishment rather than composing the layout to ensure users enjoy the use of the space. Hence, it was particularly fascinating to see the diverse approaches that bring a more ‘humane’ definition to these spaces that once used to be for punishments.
    Many find the idea maybe a bit unconventional – the idea of redefining ‘prisons’ and simultaneously the concept of ‘punishment’ also. It makes one ponder the meaning behind justice, punishment, and the definition of the phrase ‘ the punishment benefitting the crime’ from other perspectives. Maybe it is time to redefine many conventional and usual methods and approaches to help humanity. And just maybe it can begin with these ‘confined spaces’ and their redefinition.

  13. Valentina Montagnini

    Gabriele Stancato explained the concept of confined spaces, how a modern society should build not only new prison that respect the inmates’ human right, but also a whole new justice system that envision, understand and support criminals.
    In his vision, architects should be able to design and support a system where the government offers the possibility to rebuild the connection between criminals and society, the question shouldn’t be how do I punish for the crime, but rather how this person will be once is out in the society again? We can’t forget that, at the end, we have to set this person free.
    Stancato explained the history behind building and designing confined spaces, from structures focused on the display of power on the inmates’ expenses, to the idea of the panopticon, radial pattern, and last but not least, the inclusion of green open spaces inside the prisons.
    The trend for building new prisons nowadays is about simulating a society inside the walls of the institute or, for the most enterprising building, even not being a completely closed off structure.

  14. Angelica Porro

    The lecture held by Professor Gabriele Stancato has proposed an interesting view and study of a common institution of our society, of which we’re not used to talk about, since it’s a sensitive issue and still carries controversy among society. It has been interesting to understand how the standard of these environments has changed throughout history: it started as a place where control and power detention were the only factor that was taken under consideration when designing the prison, but it has shifted towards a more respectful and educational environment – although a lot of the times it’s still not realized as such. In recent years and for future designs, the importance of adopting a graduality in the prisons’ spaces has been proven, by combining more private and communal spaces, as well as green areas, in order to provide privacy and security for the inmates. The aim would be trying to develop the concept of a re-educational institution that could re-establish a connection between the single person and the outside society, instead of relying only on punishment in strictly confining places.

  15. Melis Mercan Midilli

    The lecture was quite interesting. Professor Gabriele delved into the history of prisons, offering insights into the earliest conceptions of confinement spaces. Witnessing the start and evolution of prisons not only broadened my historical perspective but also deepened my understanding of the essential approaches required to foster successful inmate rehabilitation and societal reintegration. Throughout the lecture, we examined numerous historical failures, such as the Auburn system, where the harsh practice of total isolation lead to severe psychological trauma in inmates. This serves as an important reminder that if our aim is genuine inmate reintegration, we must prioritize meeting their fundamental human needs, including social interaction. It becomes evident that offering varying levels of privacy within correctional facilities and fostering a imitation of society within prison walls are crucial steps toward facilitating successful reintegration into society. In addressing the question of whether we should prioritize creating better living spaces for inmates over punitive measures, we must recognize the importance of humane treatment in the rehabilitation process. Instances like the Panopticon and Auburn underscore the detrimental effects of privacy deprivation or complete isolation on an inmate’s well-being and rehabilitation prospects. Understanding this, it becomes imperative to create environments within prisons that cater to these essential human needs, as failure to do so distrups the rehabilitative process.

  16. Luiza Andor

    This lecture was very interesting and informative, as the professor showed several examples of prisons and their characteristics. He followed a temporal order and highlighted their architectural evolution over the years, focusing on the quality of life inside them by the prisoners. I started with a very skeptical thought about this type of ‘punishment’ as from my point of view, ‘living well’ inside them was not seen as appropriately punitive. But the professor emphasised how the role of prisons is not to ‘punish’ and ‘avenge’ those who have been wronged. Still, more to ‘re-educate’ citizens to ‘living well’, and to do this it is necessary for the environment to be stimulating and educational. For this reason, at the end of the lecture, he spoke more about the different spaces within modern prisons and how these can be a way of development for those within them. I can say at the end of this lecture that I have changed my view of these new types of spaces and believe more in their usefulness.

  17. Mihriban Benk

    Professor Gabriele Stancato’s lecture delved into the evolution of prison architecture, highlighting a notable departure from historical punitive models towards more humane and rehabilitative designs. From medieval dungeons to 18th-century panopticons focused on control, the lecture traces a shift towards contemporary prisons that prioritize inmate well-being and societal reintegration.Central to this evolution is the concept of a privacy gradient within prison environments, where inmates move through spaces with varying levels of privacy, promoting psychological well-being while maintaining security. Architects utilize space syntax analysis to strike a balance between surveillance and inmate comfort, integrating diverse spaces like private rooms, communal areas, and green spaces.The lecture underscores the pivotal role architects play in reshaping prisons as sites of rehabilitation rather than punishment. By prioritizing human dignity and social reintegration, architects contribute to a more compassionate and effective justice system. This shift challenges traditional notions of incarceration, advocating for a paradigm that fosters positive community connections and mitigates the psychological toll of imprisonment.
    Overall, the lecture presented a compelling narrative of how architecture intersects with the justice system, emphasizing the importance of design in shaping carceral experiences. It suggested a promising future where prisons are viewed not as places of isolation, but as spaces that facilitate personal growth and societal reintegration.

  18. Tugce Tunc

    Prof. Stancato’s lecture looks at how prisons have changed over time, from being about punishment to focusing more on helping people change and fit back into society. It makes us think about things like punishment and justice differently. Prisons that we’re typically familiar with have fences and cameras for security, but now there’s more focus on making them feel less like punishment and more like places where people can learn and grow. The idea is that prisons are temporary stops, not the end of the road. They also try to make sure prisoners feel better by giving them some privacy and using smart designs to help. They’re trying to balance giving prisoners some freedom while still keeping them safe. By having more open spaces, getting rid of big walls, and not keeping people alone all the time, they’re trying to make prisons feel more like communities. Changing the names of prisons is also part of making them less scary and more about helping people. Overall, the lecture shows how important it is to think about how prisons are designed, so they can help prisoners become better people.

  19. Bahadır Can

    This lecture was really eye opening. Professor explained how the design of prisons changed true history. We explored why the prisons were designed as they were and the evolution of the design dictated by the ideals ,goals and the hopes of the time. He talked about the effects of prison on the prisoners, how the population approached the idea of a prison and how we the normal citizen view the prison as a form of punishment. But a prison should not be just for punishment, it should strive to rehabilitate the prisoners and work towards integrating the prisoners as a future citizen who will strive to live in a community and be a productive member of that community. The professor explained that in order to achieve this goal the design of a prison should evolve with time and in order to achieve this he showed us examples of new and innovative prisons and explained to us how the concept of private and public space work. He explained to us his own mathematical formula in order to design a better space to achieve these goals. This lecture changed my view on our current prison system and gives me hope that times will change and we will have a more humane society who prioritizes healing more than punishment.

  20. Walid Akoum

    Professor Stancato’s lecture on prison architecture traces the evolution of confinement spaces, from medieval secrecy to modern rehabilitation ideals. His research illustrates the boundaries and possibilities within architectural design concerning confinement. The concept of a privacy gradient, transitioning from public to private spaces, addresses psychological challenges of confinement. Utilizing space syntax to measure privacy gradients and visibility underscores a balance between security and human well-being. Design choices such as decentralized control systems and emphasis on social activities over surveillance challenge traditional punitive models, acknowledging the limitations of harsh confinement. Integration of outdoor spaces and removal of high walls aims to reduce isolation and create a sense of community. Renaming prisons to combat stigma reflects a progressive approach to rehabilitation. Overall, the presentatiom emphasizes architecture’s pivotal role in shaping the experiences of incarcerated individuals, advocating for a more compassionate and effective approach to incarceration within the limits of architectural possibilities. His presentation showed how strong of an impact does architecture have on the life of the prisoners and their mental well-being. Professor Stancato highlighted the limits that architecture creates in the spaces like how small design detail can create mental confinement in addition to physical ones.

  21. Pengwen Su

    This class was quite an interesting exposition and presentation. The design of prisons is a type of architectural design that we do not often encounter and pay attention to in our daily work, study and life. This class broadened my thinking about architectural design. A different thinking experience than usual.
    Professor Gabriele Stancato breaks down our stereotypes of prisons. Not only are the buildings in this society constantly being updated and developed, but even buildings with special functions such as prisons are also constantly developing with the changes of the times. It evolved from “initially exposing prisoners to the sight of prison guards as much as possible through design” to “beginning to pay attention to the privacy of prisoners to a certain extent.”
    Indeed, the role of prison is not only to restrict and control, but also to guide and reform. As the professor said, it is not to let them do nothing, but to guide them to serve society again.

  22. Lekshmi Sindhu Raju

    The lecture by Professor Gabriele Stancato explained the evolution of prisons along with their architectural representations and effects on people, society, and urban environments. Different case studies emphazised how the concept of prison. Eg: In later centuries and particularly during the Middle Ages, this mode of containment, in which bodies were piled up in dimly lit and hardly ventilated dungeons, was repeated in many buildings, an example of which can be found in Violet-le-Duc’s Dictionaire. Characterising into public spaces ; ideally available to every individual , Social spaces ; by grasping space with single gaze but only for those embrazed space by itself , Semi collective , Semi Private, Private so on.
    Concluding the lecture explained how significant to think about how prisons are designed and managed, so that it can help prisoners become better person.


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