Designing better living environments in prison

We’ve been working on an interior refurbishment scheme (the Living Environment Project) for a category A prison which has brought some interesting design challenges.

The HMP client were enthusiastic about trying to use design to harmonise the living spaces in order to create a better and less threatening environment for inmates and staff. One of the key concepts that we’ve been exploring is that of biophilic design – in brief the principle that you maximise views to the outside and make connections to green spaces either through elements such as finishes or super graphic references on the basis that we as humans have an innate connection to our natural environment.

The aim is that this will help to reduce aggression and mental health issues in the prison.

A recent study, ‘Wellbeing in Prison Design’ by Matter Architecture co-founder Roland Karthaus with environmental psychologist Lily Bernheimer and prison experts in consultation with the Ministry of Justice prison estate transformation programme argues that,

“the way in which prisons have been commissioned and built in the past has been a barrier to rehabilitation and the welfare of the workforce”.

Putting full-length windows in cells to give prisoners views of greenery, doing away with long, straight corridors, using timber doors and softening lighting are among the recommendations.

The move comes as researchers begin a study to examine the impact of a more relaxed and humane prison by examining changes at HMP Berwyn.

There, prisoners are referred to as men, housed in communities rather than blocks, and locked up in “rooms” rather than cells.

There have also been attempts at the prison to fill empty wall space with photos of the local Welsh landscape.

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said: “A normal environment in which people take responsibility for as much of their own lives as possible is preparation for successful release.

“Bars in windows is yesterday’s technology.”

The UK Government is committed to funding ‘super prisons. The first new prisons are expected to be built on the site of former jails at Wellingborough, Northamptonshire and Glen Parva, Leicestershire in 2021 and 2022 respectively. These new prisons will take many of their design cues from the innovative prison programme in Norway as exemplified by Halden Prison – often called the “most humane prison in the world”.

Halden is one of Norway’s highest-security jails, holding rapists, murderers and paedophiles. Since it opened two years ago, at a cost of 1.3bn Norwegian kroner (£138m), it has acquired a reputation as the world’s most humane prison. It is the flagship of the Norwegian justice system, where the focus is on rehabilitation rather than punishment.

Some of the design challenges that we have had to deal with include surveying the internal spaces; quite evidently the production of layout plans of the buildings are highly sensitive. The process of getting sub contractors in and out with tools has been challenging to say the least! The prison service is a vast organisation and personnel including Governors are always on the move so relationship building is important but may need to be re-started as people move about. Its been a slow process but despite these challenges our work at the prison continues.

Sellincourt Refurbishment – Phase One Summer 2015

Sellincourt Primary refurb

Now that the dust has settled we thought it would be useful to report on the Sellincourt Primary refurbishment project.

More on the scheme can be found here

The design intent was to develop an interior scheme that could be deployed throughout the main school building and possibly to Early Years in a phased programme of works. Part of the initial design consultancy time was used to develop an overall scheme for decorations which could be rolled out across the school as and when funds became available.

The building is a standard Victorian period school structure circa 1907 with interesting original features many of which have been preserved despite later modifications. It would be fair to say that the building has suffered in recent years from some unsympathetic building works which have cloaked, over-sailed and in some cases destroyed original features. There was thus the need for some TLC to reveal the architecture and bring the building back to an environment fit for learning.

The first phase of works was scheduled for Summer 2015 during the 6 week holiday period. The works included for most of the ground floor rooms with some exceptions and in particular a complete refurbishment of the two Year 1 classrooms.

The critical drivers for this first phase was to deliver a scheme that was on budget, on time and inspirational for staff and pupils when they returned.

It was an intensive building programme and we learnt quite a few lessons. The positives;

  • We implemented weekly 2-3 hour progress meetings which were used to review and report on activities. Whilst a big time commitment these were vital to monitor and catch and mitigate issues.
  • An HSE / general project file was assembled pre- commencement which was a useful reference during the scheme. This will be useful for future works.
  • The appointment of Wandsworth Building Services was absolutely the right choice. The team were diligent, efficient and provided a superb service throughout the works period. A special mention must be made for our Site Agent without whom the programme targets might have been severely challenged.
  • Refurbishment is a never ending journey – issues were uncovered during the works which had a negative knock on effect on the budget; some issues were parked to be addressed in the future.
  • Demolitions were in general the simplest part of the works, making good afterwards required care and sometimes a light touch. For instance we scraped back loose paintwork on the radiators and repainted due to budgetary concerns; long term it might be better to refurbish the radiators properly and strip back to cast iron.
  • The Year 1 classrooms were a great success. Removing the acoustic panelling, adding a suspended ceiling and new lighting have been transformative.
  • The stripped parquet flooring in the East Hall show what can be achieved when we tackle the main hall. The parquet which is approximately 100 years old now looks like new. It’s a highly valuable floor finish.
  • The removal of the original built in cupboards (a really difficult aesthetic decision – were we being vandals here) and re-decorations of the main hall have made a big difference.
  • The building works have given us a good benchmark of which contractors/ sub contractors should be retained for future works.
  • The resulting finish. Its transformed the Ground Floor spaces, rationalised circulation and made better use of rooms.

And the negatives or shall we say challenges!

  • There was a lot of legacy wiring, equipment and evidence of patched up jobs which needed to be resolved before good progress could be made.
  • We had to omit the Lobby partition works due to the combination of a high quotation and running out of time to seek alternatives. Next time we will need a much longer run up (say plans in place 2 months ahead of work start) to the building programme to avoid being penalised with inflated costs.
  • A building works programme like this has a high impact and demand on individuals’ time. Much more than you think!

So that was the first phase completed. We’ve had a little bit of snagging, a short break and now we’re looking to raise the funds for Summer 2016 Phase 2. The journey continues …


Sellincourt Refurbishment programme updates

We recently ran workshops with Y4 and 5 pupils at Sellincourt to think about and develop ideas for a large digital banner for the new school lobby.

The lobby is part of the refurbishment programme and will be remodelled to include (budgets permitting) a new glazed partition separating the main hall from the visitor holding area and a re-jigged Reception counter. The banner is based on a tree motif derived from existing Victorian ironwork in the school. Pupils drew lots of different trees and also the sorts of things that you might find in the branches. Measuring over 2 metres wide and 4 metres high it should make quite an impression on visitors!


sellincourt banner sellincourt banner

MK Hospital design developments

Sometimes it seems that you’ve been very quiet when in reality you’ve been very busy working on a whole series of concepts.

Milton Keynes Hospital have commissioned us to develop ideas for both the Children’s Wards as well as other parts of the hospital. It follows on from a previous commission to create graphics for Ward 4. Working with the Arts For Health team we’ve been developing a load of very exciting proposals of which the Nature Trail concepts below are a small sample of the project development.

A key challenge for the scheme is to ensure that our programme connects and integrates with the larger hospital maintenance regime as there are some interesting opportunities that can arise from that collaboration.

Our next step is to run some focus group work with young people to gauge their reaction to the current proposals as well as gather their ideas .

You can find out more about the excellent work of Arts For Health here

mk-nature walk mk-nature walk mk-nature walk

Good news about the Sellincourt Primary school refurb

We’re really pleased to announce that the governors at Sellincourt Primary school, Wandsworth have recently agreed to commit to a interiors refurbishment programme. Sellincourt Primary school is a rather lovely classic victorian school building characterised by extremely high ceilings and some examples of original glazed tiling.

It’s interesting to compare the abundance of quality materials and finishes in the building to current new build school schemes. The main halls for instance have parquet flooring ( incredible m2 expense) and walls are covered in glazed tiles which were both an aesthetic and functional solution to maintaining the wall finishes. Sadly the building interior has been compromised by subsequent ‘tinkering’ but the bones of the building are intact. Our job is going to be to develop an interior scheme for the whole building which will be implemented in stages over the next few years.

Part of the work will also include a hefty dose of pupil and staff engagement with the first workshops starting in December. The idea is that these workshops will generate involvement and ideas for the scheme.

One immediate feature that we’ve spotted is this rather lovely ‘tree’ motif ironwork which we’ve redrawn as a graphic to see how it can be used in the interior design.