Beyond the Walls: The Architecture of Imprisonment and Community

Neil Lawrence Parrish


The purpose of this thesis is to investigate the role architecture plays in both causing and ameliorating cycles of crime and punishment. To accomplish this task, the study combines an investigation of historical prison typologies, with an investigation into the philosophical and ethical questions surrounding the practice of imprisonment itself, as well as in depth sociological and criminological studies of the ways in which crime and incarceration affect the health of communities over time. It then employs the tools and conclusions of these studies to investigate the change over time in a singe community in North Memphis, Tennessee from its roots as a thriving, multi-racial industrial hub to a community defined by endemic crime, poverty, and violence and, finally, to suggest a way to improve the health of the community through the prison system itself.

The study concludes that the prison system as it currently exists must undergo a fundamental philosophical and physical change in order to actually meet the goals of reducing crime and improving community health for which it was intended. To that end, the thesis suggests a vision of an incarceration facility for a single community in North Memphis that uses architecture as a vehicle to instrumentalize the key emotion that defines imprisonment -- how to escape from it -- in order to reconcile prisoners back to the communities they have offended.