Architects float prison-in-the-sky idea

Winners of annual skyscraper contest include a "Vertical Prison" whose inmates work for the host city below, and a building that doubles as a water purification system for a polluted Indonesian river.

Leslie Katz Former Culture Editor
Leslie Katz led a team that explored the intersection of tech and culture, plus all manner of awe-inspiring science, from space to AI and archaeology. When she's not smithing words, she's probably playing online word games, tending to her garden or referring to herself in the third person.
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Leslie Katz
2 min read

Vertical Prison
The first-place Vertical Prison concept explores the possibility of creating a prison-city in the sky whose inmates work to contribute to the host city below. Chow Khoon Toong, Ong Tien Yee, Beh Ssi Cze

Prisons separate inmates from society with walls. But the winners of eVolo magazine's 2010 Skyscraper Competition have a very different vision: a prison in the sky where height itself becomes the barrier.

The annual contest recognizes designs that redefine skyscrapers through the use of new technologies, materials, aesthetics, and spatial organization. This year, the contest drew 430 entries from 42 countries.

The Malaysian architecture students who created what they call the Vertical Prison present a futuristic design, to be sure, but it's inspired by current studies showing high levels of post-release offenses that many associate with a lack of prisoner rehabilitation. With resocialization in mind, the designers imagine a kind of parallel prison universe complete with agricultural fields, factories, and recyclable plants. Inmates would work in those ventures to contribute to the host city below, thus maintaining a connection to the world they aim to re-inhabit one day.

Vertical Prison prison cell
Openings in prison cells would depend on the behavior and danger level of inmates. Chow Khoon Toong, Ong Tien Yee, Beh Ssi Cze

Transportation to and from the prison in the sky would take place via various pods--for inmates, prison employees, medical personnel, cargo, and so on. The pods could also provide daily surveillance.

But as envisioned by Chow Khoon Toong, Ong Tien Yee, and Beh Ssi Cze, the Vertical Prison is a fundamentally optimistic place. The modular prison cells would even have openings to reveal life beyond the inhabitants' confined spaces, hopefully inspiring them to want to recapture some of what they have lost while incarcerated.

Second place in the contest went to the Indonesian team that conceived of the Ciliwung Recovery Program, a giant edifice that looks like a cross between a sculpture you'd find outside a modern-art museum and an uber-cool playground climbing structure. Actually, it's a 100 percent sustainable skyscraper that provides housing and office space while collecting garbage from the Ciliwung River river bank in Jakarta and purifying the river's water through a system of mega-filters.

Ryohei Koike and Jarod Poenisch from the United States nabbed third place for their Nested Skyscraper, a prototype Tokyo fashion boutique which, as you can see from the picture below, frees the skyscraper typology from its usual rigid structure. Meant to adapt to climatic and urban conditions, it's lightweight and flexible and has multiple layers of composite louvers that thicken and rotate according to solar exposure, ventilation, and materials performance.

Oh, and did we mention it's supposed to be constructed by robots?

Ciliwung Recovery Program
The Ciliwung Recovery Program is designed as a habitable water purification machine that would improve life along the polluted Ciliwung River in Jakarta, Indonesia. Rezza Rahdian, Erwin Setiawan, Ayu Diah Shanti, Leonardus Chrisnantyo

Nested Skyscraper
Constructing the Nested Skyscraper involves robots stretching a network of carbon sleeves sprayed with fiber-laced concrete to create a primary structure. A second set of bots wraps the structure with steel mesh. Ryohei Koike, Jarod Poenisch