This research, based on the space syntax science, from Hillier and Hanson (1989) investigates associations between the spatial layout of Victorian prisons and social behaviour. A list of thirteen active prisons originally designed for the purpose will be investigated, and computer software will translate the findings into illustrated plans. This study can be used to reveal unseen opportunities and constraints to improve the current Victorian prison design.

Mrs Friederika Hackler1

1Swinburne University Of Technology, Hawthorn, Australia

Is a general understanding that the built environment has an influence on people’s behaviour, a phenomenon that can be known as Architectural Determinism (Canter, 1977). Even though the design of prisons may not prevent good penal practices, the built environment as support of better rehabilitation practices and improve behavioural outcomes in prisoners, as a topic has been neglected for too long (Fairweather and McConville, 2000). One important factor to be considered when designing prison spaces in the end user, their needs, and the regional appropriateness (Fairweather and McConville, 2000). When it comes to Australia, the prison practices and design were mostly based on U.S. decisions until very recently, when studies were developed with concern on the regional appropriateness (Jewkes and Grant, 2015).

The initial idea of this research was to understand what could be re-designed in existing prisons in order to support better rehabilitation practices. However, it was found that there is insufficient research explaining the modern prison evolution (in the past 50 years) that can be used to understand what could be improved on the prison spaces – particularly when focusing in Australia. Considering the necessity of research in the field, this study will then, produce a space syntax analysis of active prisons from Victoria, Australia, in the period between 1965 to present times. Although there is a book talking about the 200 years of penal system since Pentridge (the first prison from Victoria), “From Pentonville to Pentridge: A history of prisons in Victoria” by Lynn and Armstrong (1996), and also the “father of the philosophy of punishment”, Foucault (1979), who explains the origin and evolution of prisons from the 18th Century to the great philosophers (Bentham, Howard) in Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, modern prison design has started to become focus only in recent studies (e.g. Beijersbergen et al. (2014) and Fairweather and McConville (2000) but not targeting Australia, and is even rarer to find research in Victoria. Jewkes and Grant (2015) in their publication “Finally Fit for Purpose: The Evolution of Australian Prison Architecture” opened the discussion and explained the main points of the prison design evolution in Australia, however without a space syntax analysis of the prison spaces and how they work. This article served the purpose, in this research, of raising the flag about the importance of analysing the spaces to understand what has changed in the modern period of prison design.

In order to investigate the prisons, all the existing prisons in Victoria were listed, in order of their opening years, from Pentridge (the first prison) to Ravenhall (the last prison constructed). A general understanding of who manages the prisons, general capacity, brief history, was needed to screen the prisons that should not be included in the study. To define the period, besides the existing literature found already explaining the first 200 years of penal history in the world and in Victoria, which excludes the period from approximately 1850 to 1970. The existing books found coincidently are explaining the period of the inactive prisons in Victoria. Which suggests that the active prison system is relatively modern, with the closure of the last of the “old” gaols in 2006.

Only the active prisons being used as prisons (many are reused as museums, learning places, bed and breakfasts) will be considered to the spatial analysis, as other studies already explain thoroughly the evolution of prisons in the period since the 18th Century (the origin of prisons with the function of liberty deprivation), to 1970. From the list of the active prisons in Victoria, five will not be part of this study for different reasons. HM Prison Langi Kal Kal, HM Prison Dhurringile, HM Prison Tarrengower, HM Melbourne Assessment Prison, are excluded from this study as they were not originally designed to be a prison, they have adapted homesteads and a hotel. Re-purposing buildings into prisons was a common practice since the birth of prisons, and this is research is focused only in the modern spaces, so these five prisons will not be part of the spatial analysis. Acheron Boys Home also will not be included in the research as this is a camp prison, used to house ten boys between 15-17 years, as alternative custody.

A great benefit of this research is the possibility to position the Victorian prison spaces and their evolution, and analyse whether the changes are randomly consequences of unplanned factors (e.g. increase of prison population, accidents, riots, unintentional reflex of events’ mitigation); or if there was intentional design research behind the existing prison spaces.

For the analysis of these prisons the methodology used is based on Hillier and Hanson (1989) the creator of space syntax analysis at The Bartlett, University College London, which is a science-based, human-focused approach used to investigate associations between the spatial layout and social behaviour. The general idea is that spaces can be broken down into components, analysed as networks of choices, then represented as maps and graphs that describe the relative connectivity and integration of those spaces. This is achieved through the comprehension of patterns of movements and interactions: density, land use, urban growth, etc. Is a quantitative analysis that used computer technology to analyse spaces and shows how the spatial layout strongly shapes movement patterns, and for these reasons is being adopted as the methodology in this study.

In a simplified way, NearMap and Google Earth images Victoria maps databases, pictures that may be available on the mentioned databases, will be used to gather information that will form an AutoCAD digital drawing. At least two maps of prisons that changed over the years will be analysed, to identify the transformation of spaces along the years, and colour coded diagrams will be explaining different user flows, different use of spaces, pedestrian, and vehicular accesses, paths, sports area, gardens, buildings, etc. With a digital software maps will be produced, and the prisons will be compared between themselves (when is the case of having maps showing two periods of time of that same prison, which may not happen 1) because the prison has not changed 2) because there are not available maps showing the original prison plan) and will be also compared one to the other. Percentages relative to the site areas will show comparisons between the square meterage of paths, sports area, buildings, and green areas. Flows and accesses will be also analysed and compared, divided into prisoners, staff, and visitors. This is called the diagnostic stage of the space syntax, that usually precedes the design strategy stage (Hillier and Hanson, 1989), the output of this study will be an illustrated set of plans reporting key insights on how the prison spaces work, their opportunities and constraints. The result of the analysis may help revealing unseen opportunities for better design of Victorian prisons, may unlock problems, and provide supporting information for the for future ideas to improve the current prison design.


Friederika completed a Bachelor of Architecture and Urban Planning from the Federal University of Bahia; a Master of Design from the Swinburne University of Technology, and is currently a Ph.D. student. Her interests include psychology factors determined by the architectural spaces, and her current research focus is on the prison environment.

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