Key considerations for designing futureproof prison estates

29 July, 2021

Following our appointment to the New Prisons Programme (NPP) late last year via SCAPE’s Consultancy, operating under Perfect Circle’s unique collaboration, we are working with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to provide new safe, secure and decent prison places across their estate. Prison estates need a long life, so in our design approach for new facilities, we must consider how we can ensure that what we design and build now will still be as effective and functional in decades to come.

Operations Director Tim Irons is leading on the designs and has spoken to PBC Today about the key considerations to ensure that new prisons will stand the test of time, along with the opportunities that working on resettlement prisons provide for design innovation.

Physical adaptability and future tech integration

In order to truly futureproof new prisons, it’s really important that we consider the adaptability of the facilities.

We must design and install main systems that will allow for the easy implementation of emerging technologies and allow spaces to be reconfigured or recommissioned for alternative users further down the line. However, this must be done in such a way so that it doesn’t compromise the safety or security of the prison.

A particular example of this within our current design programme is our examination of the entrance resource hub – the public facing building. In existing prisons, the building has typically become a hybrid construction building formed partly of steel and partly of pre-cast concrete. This approach means that any layouts created are fixed and much more difficult to adapt if the requirements of the space were to change.

We are working on an alternative solution into our current programme of designs, which relies on a steel frame that allows for a modulised grid and reduces the number of components needed. This makes the internal space much more adaptable if and when needed – and also provides additional opportunity for offsite construction.

Future energy considerations

To truly futureproof new prisons, we cannot neglect sustainability aspects. Any prisons being designed and built from now onwards will need to deliver on carbon neutrality – which supports the UK government’s overall goal to become a carbon neutral country by 2050.

Several aspects of sustainability considerations have been covered in the discussion already, including landscaping for net biodiversity gain and ensuring easy integration of future technologies such as solar farms.

However, a key consideration that is fairly unique to prison estates is the energy requirements for security systems. Such systems have potential to use a high amount of energy, so as design specialists we must be continually assessing how to manage and offset this – with those aforementioned sustainable energy technologies being part of the solution.

To ensure that estates are fit for purpose, resilient to climate, and work towards reducing carbon, we must continually analyse throughout the design process. This will feed into the design approach to ensure that we specify the best and most appropriate products and materials for the environment and design, while offsetting the impacts of more extreme highs and lows in temperature and precipitation, and the processes of production, transportation and construction too.

Through this approach, our early estimates for the latest MoJ designs show that we will be able to achieve a significant increase in carbon saving for operational energy against the latest new-build facility at Glen Parva.

Read Tim’s full piece on PBC Today’s website here where he discusses further opportunities for design innovation and how removing monotony and clinical space in designs creates normality for prison staff and residents.

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