Supermax prison looks like suburban sprawl from the air?

A photographer taking and examining aerial photos of prisons made an interesting connection: the prisons look like suburban sprawl from the air.

High above the Arizona desert in 2010, after a day of photographing housing developments, Christoph Gielen looked down from the helicopter upon Arizona State Prison Complex-Florence. The hexagonal arrangement of the prison site, to him, replicated the six-sided concentric order of suburbs he’d shot previously. That chance observation kickstarted a three-year project called American Prison Perspectives, in which Gielen examines the architecture of Supermax prisons via aerial photos…

“I want to expose the prevailing trend toward building increased-security prison systems, and illustrate how prison design and architecture do, in fact, reflect political discourse, economic priorities, cultural sentiments and social insecurities,” says Gielen. “What does our ongoing tolerance of solitary confinement say about us as a society?”

Alas, there is not much talk here about the possible connections between the design of suburbs and high-security prisons. However, I imagine the commentary consistent with common critiques of the suburbs might go like this: we shouldn’t be surprised at this because suburban patterns are meant to help isolate and imprison people. A difference is that Americans might be self-isolating (though one could argue there is certainly a social and cultural push toward the suburbs) and prisoners have little choice in these prisons. But, wouldn’t that make the suburban prison even worse?

It would be interesting to know if there is any tangible connection/influence between these two kinds of designs…

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