Vertical Prison leaves criminals up in the air


March 15, 2010

The Vertical Prison would have inmates serve time in a wall-less prison in the sky

The Vertical Prison would have inmates serve time in a wall-less prison in the sky

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The idea of tailoring architecture to the requirements of a prison is by no means new - most famously the Panopticon design by English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham has been the blueprint for many prisons since the late 1800s. A new Vertical Prison concept is not as draconian in its ambitions with its aim of rehabilitating prisoners by allowing them to remain a part of society and allow them to contribute to it, while using height as a wall to separate them from it.

The Vertical Prison was designed by Malaysian architecture students Chow Khoon Toong, Ong Tien Yee, and Beh Ssi Cze, and took first place in eVolo Magazine’s annual Skyscraper Competition. Their project examines the possibility of creating a prison-city in the sky, where the inmates would live in a “free” and productive community with agricultural fields, factories and recycling plants that would be operated by the offenders as a way to give back to the community and support the host city below them.

Recognizing that many prisons are nothing more than a school for criminals, the prison design aims to rehabilitate inmates by invoking a sense of community. In allowing the prison to become a part of the community and form a symbiotic relationship with the it, the designers also believe that the social stigma of a prison would be softened resulting in greater acceptance of inmates and a better chance they will be given another opportunity upon re-entering society after their incarceration.

The Vertical Prison employs a modular design to maximize flexibility. A girder box structure is used to house a variety of different units and form a communal space. Inmates are housed in Cell Units that themselves can be customized with different "loopholes" or openings appropriate to the behavior or level of danger of the inmate. Depending on its location within a city the prison could include Agricultural Units to grow food for the city, Industrial Units to help in the recycling of industrial waste or Juvenile Units to scare kids straight.

Transport to and from the prison is via various pods that travel along the frames supporting the prison. Transport Pods are the primary transport vehicle and can also be used for daily surveillance. Heavy Lift Pods serve as vertical lift transport for delivering cargo to market or to transport other pods to the ground. Armored Riot Control Pods are armed with both lethal and non-lethal weapons as well as airdrop capabilities for keeping prisoners in check. Medevac Pods are equipped with airlift capabilities and paramedic equipment, while the Fire Rescue Pod also has air lift capabilities and fire-fighting apparatus.

Given the cost of such a system, not to mention the difficulty any city would face in trying to convince nearby residents a prison with no walls above their neighborhood is a good idea, it’s probably not likely we’ll see any Vertical Prisons appearing on city skylines anytime soon. But kudos to the designers for giving some serious thought into an equally serious problem.

Recidivism rates among prisoners suggest the system – in the US at least and the many countries with similar systems – is not working. In California, which has the highest recidivism rate in the US, seven out of ten prisoners return to prison within three years. That translates to a tremendous burden on the taxpayer. So if the new prison concept was found to be successful, ideas like it might not be as expensive in the long run as they first appear.

Via Gizmodiva

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

Ignoring human rights? They\'re fed, clothed and provided shelter. How is that in-humane?

Facebook User

Crazy. There is a reason why buildings under a bridge for instance, are less desirable: no view, dark shadows, looming architecture over your head... so let\'s put all the prisons over our heads, blocking out the sun and air. There is a reason why penthouses are desirable... now people will want to go to prison as that way they get the sun, the view and no prison over their heads. What is with the diagram that shows tractors, cows and heavy machinery vertically over highrises? Notice how as buildings go up they get narrower and fewer? That is because all that stuff is heavy and it takes a lot of energy to go that high. How would they build factories, farms and prison buildings held up OVER top of the taller buildings, even if it were desirable. They wouldn\'t go for this plan if it were a community based project, let alone a prison. Laudible goals, ridiculous manner of achieving them. I don\'t have antipathy for prisons now, but if they were everpresent over my head blocking out the sun and air, I would.

Leanne Franson

If you want to stop people return to crime then look no further than Sheriff Joe Arpaio. He makes his prisoners work for the local comunity, makes them sleep in tents, and makes then dress in pink. His system works with the philosphy that \" Criminals should be punished for their crimes - not live in luxury until it’s time for their parole, only to go out and commit another crime so they can get back in to live on taxpayers money and enjoy things taxpayers can’t afford to have for themselves\"

In Rogers Head

Amazing what you can do when you ignore human rights, isn\'t it Rogers?


Human rights for prisoners? whatever next? If you commit a crime, bang goes your human rights! To be fair, just make it known to everybody. We could all sign a consent form. No crime. No problem! Make prisoners work for their keep. How about generating electricity on a treadmill for old people\'s homes?


I am sorry that you feel that way Ironghost. My personal feeling is that anybody who feels that they have the right to impact on someone else's rights and liberties no longer deserves society's sympathies. And for the record Sheriff Joe Arpaio has not violate or ignored anyone's humans right as set down in the US constitution in regards to the tent prison that he set up.

As the old adage says don't do the crime if you can't do the time, unfortunately in a lot of cases the time is easy and luxurious in comparison to say living on the street because the recession left you without a job and the bank reposed your home. I would rather see tax monies being spent helping those people and providing them with food shelter and the means necessary to get back to work, than being wasted on those people who have chosen a life of crime that never pay back to society what they take from it with no regard to others.

In Rogers Head

On a slightly different note if the above concept could be altered to place the prison in say an old open cast mine site, with 2-300 ft vertical side to provide the appropriate deterrent to escape, then I think the over head pod system as well as the modular cell systems could have positive cost savings and efficiencies.

In Rogers Head

\"They\'re fed, clothed and provided shelter. How is that in-humane?\" Um, so are slaves and indentured servants, a lot of kidnapped people etc... that is hardly a definition of humane treatment. But we were talking about Vertical Prison design, not feeding and clothing people...

\"Human rights for prisoners? whatever next? If you commit a crime, bang goes your human rights! \" Is anyone here unaware of the fact that people are put in prison for smoking marijuana for instance, for not paying parking tickets, for a multitude of things, including in other countries homosexuality with a willing partner, infidelity (ie a married woman who is raped is considered adulterous), for writing newspaper articles on human rights etc? Is everyone here unaware that people who have been incarcerated include Nelson Mandela, Oscar Wilde (who died doing hard labour) etc? That using DNA testing several scores of convicted murderers have been found innocent after 20 yrs in jail etc? I hope none of you ever end up in jail for a night or three.

BTW, could we please comment on the VERTICAL PRISON DESIGN? The thing about the mines was interesting. But frankly, in the US and elsewhere, prisons are a BUSINESS... the people who run them lobby to build more, sell all services from food to security to clothing to the govt, ie it is a captive consumer group that puts billions upon billions of dollars into the pockets of the contractors and the govt. We need prison alternatives. Not more prisons.

Leanne Franson
Anyone thinking that punishment will somehow correct inmates is just plain foolish. What punishment, including things like boredom actually do is increase rage and hate and assure a more violent and more dedicated convict will take out his rage on society. At best sheriff Joe will accomplish is to cause criminals to prey on the innocent in states other than Arizona. Mental illness, ignorance, and a lack of education are the usual causes of crime. Gloom and punishment amplify these problems. Facebook User

Facebook user is right. I have talked to family members of criminals in Arizona that experienced the system there and heard that it is the case that criminals leave Arizona and prey on easier states-So Joe\'s plan is good for Arizona. About the vertical prison, I really don\'t like the idea to have the specter of evil over my head at all times reminding me every day of the prisoners and their plight, or the suffering of their victims. If you are going to build something in the sky it should be a park, museum, public meeting place or temple don\'t give the prisoners the best seat in the house. You give them leverage in the event of overthrow to cause some major damage below, you would have to protect the pilons with too much security to keep them from toppling the whole structure when they get released or by their associates.

Fabian Rousset

There\'s one nice thing about this design: It\'s a Popular Mechanics-style pipe dream that will never be.

Facebook User

Prisons should be for those who are a threat to the safety of society only. Other criminals who are not dangerous should be put to work to provide restitution to the victims and state. Any laws that are victimless crimes based on moral judgments should be repealed as unconstitutional. Do all this and we can convert most of our prisons to hospitals tomorrow.


Granted we don\'t really want criminals able to drop things on the heads of the average Joe going about their Business...

This structure could be used as a prison using oil platform techniques for suspending things above the ocean (as in some movies) and they can have fish farms below...

Also, citing Nelson Mandela and other Extreme Left wing revolutionaries as reasons why prisons are bad things...... (Do you think Yasser Arafat was a Nice Guy as well, well how about Adolf Hitler (he also did time for being a revolutionary)

He and others were actually Terrorists.

You (and I) may feel that the society they were protesting against were inequitable, however as the case was, they committed and planned t commit acts of terror on an organised society... If that were the USA (and it has been in the past) They would have served hard time as well...

Plotting to overthrow an installed government through means other than politics is always a crime....

The debate regarding the place of prisons in a polite society is for another forum... Have you ever noted that people in Prisons generally do not fit into polite society, maybe we should just deport them all to Liberia or Sierra Leone, then we won\'t need prisons in the \'nice\' countries... (See what a Nice place the Emancipated slaves have made of Liberia, they wanted a country of their own and they got it... pity about the people who used to call it their own... sound familiar)

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