Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Prison that Inmates Built

The Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola (model above) has been making the news lately. Just take a look at The Atlantic, The Guardian, The Hartford Courant, The New Yorker and The Washington Times.

New Orleans architects Curtis & Davis developed the branching plan as a modern departure from traditional jail architecture. Angola was the first of their many forays into penal project design, built 1954-56 utilizing pre-stressed and post-tensioned concrete. They cut costs by utilizing lift slab construction and prison labor.

The lift slab technique, developed in Texas, eliminated the need to erect interstitial scaffolding and most form work. Additionally, the institution assigned inmates to assist in erecting housing clusters. Arthur Q. Davis claimed in his recent memoir that a competition between general contractors and inmates demonstrated that the latter were able to install interior partitions and curtain walls 15% faster than their counterparts.(1) The project was completed on schedule and under budget.

Both Davis and his partner Nathaniel C. Curtis, Jr. promoted the award-winning structure within the context of James Van Benschoten Bennett's penal reforms. (2)  Bennett recommended separating prisoners based on age and custody classifications (maximum, medium, minimum), and sent his administrator Reed Cozard to assist in developing the "New Angola."(2)  It quickly became a progressive model for other correctional, detention and penitentiary structures in the United States and beyond.

Photographs of the expansive complex graced international magazines such as LIFE and L'Architecture d'Aujourd'Hui.

Angola is now the largest maximum-security prison in the United States, with over 5000 inmates. The average sentence is 93 years.(3)

(1)Arthur Q. Davis. It Happened by Design. Jackson:  University of Mississippi Press, 2009, p. 24.

(2)Ibid. Curtis quoted Bennett's Mahatma Gandhi-influenced statement, "To Deprive a Man of His Liberty Is Punishment Enough" in his circa 1979 promotional brochure, Criminal Justice Architecture. He later collaborated with University of South Carolina prison reformer (and security fence inventor) Ellis Campbell MacDougall (1927-2002) to design correctional facilities for Saudi Arabia.

(3)Bill Quigley. "Louisiana Number One in Incarceration." Huffington Post 10 May 2016.

See also:

"Angola." In Karen Kingsley, ed. Buildings of Louisiana. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003, pp. 427-428.

Images above:  Frank Lotz Miller, photographer. Curtis and Davis, architects. Model of Louisiana State Penitentiary, Angola. 1953. Curtis and Davis Office Records, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

Frank Lotz Miller, photographer. Curtis and Davis, architects. Construction of Dining Hall/Shared Facilities, Louisiana State Penitentiary, Angola. 1954.  Curtis and Davis Office Records, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

No comments: