i + D - September/October 2020 - 33

Correcting Corrections - By Brian Libby

Designer's Dilemma
For a generation of architecture students about to enter the
profession, the headline-making events of 2020, particularly
ongoing protests against police brutality, have prompted interest
in design for social good.
"Our justice system is on people's radars: What's a courthouse
like? What's a jail like? What's a prison like?" says Deborah Berke,
dean of the Yale University School of Architecture. "Students are
also looking beyond just incarceration to buildings that serve the
broad public-maybe more than they were 10 or 20 years ago."
Three years ago, Berke invited one of the world's most famous
architects, Canadian-American Frank O. Gehry, to teach another
one of his regular graduate studios. This time, however, the design
challenge Gehry wanted to assign students was not a museum
or concert hall (building types that made him a household name)
but rather prison and jail design. "It was a profound and valid
study," she remembers. "How do you make them restorative
environments as opposed to punishment environments?"
Yet today Berke actually believes architects and interior
designers should refuse prison and jail commissions. "If one is in
prison, should they be able to see daylight out the window? You
bet they should. But if it's filled to 300 percent capacity, daylight
alone is not enough," she says. "The issues that need to be
solved first and foremost are not design issues. We'll get to the
design issues after we solve why so many people are in prison,
why it's so disproportionately people of color, why we have a
for-profit system. We have a lot to unwind, but we have to agree
as a nation on what the mission of a prison is."
Even so, particularly amidst times of economic uncertainty
fostered by the pandemic, many designers are ready to get to
work, and they're equally sure getting involved is the right thing.
"I do feel that everyone is moving towards a better kind of
strategy, and it's our goal as designers to try to take them a couple
of steps down the road of that journey," says Kate Diamond,
who directs civic design for HDR. "Today, we have more
information than we did a decade or two ago. We have more
research. The architecture and the interior design really matter.
We want to create an environment that supports human health
and sends people back to the community better."

BRIAN LIBBY
is a journalist, photographer, and award-winning
filmmaker. His articles have appeared in
The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal,
The Atlantic, and Architectural Digest.

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i + D - September/October 2020

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