August 13th, 2017

The third and final article in our series on the American prison system. —Ed.

Hannah Boyd

For you, DJ, the person who shared part of his life with me.

And for you, former mayor of Indianapolis Greg Ballard, the person who vehemently rejected the concept of prison slave labor, the implications of the 13th amendment, and the profiteering by corporations that makes everyone complicit in the practice of neo-slavery(1).

On day one of our architecture studio, we are tasked with designing a 4,000 bed jail with 27 courtrooms and administrative offices. The project had been an effort by former mayor Greg Ballard to consolidate the sprawling jail network that currently exists in Indianapolis (2). The project never came to fruition, and the new mayor, Joe Hogsett, is currently reviving the project with new ambitions (3).

The 13th Amendment

A tall, burly man stalks back and forth, pacing in the dimly-lit, boarded-up bedroom. His name is DJ. We speak for over three hours. He sports a white cap embroidered with an expensive logo. His words are emphatic, punctuated with body language. “I was a drug dealer,” he says. “I had a three-year stint in prison.” His eyes are distant, but his body is engaged. He doesn’t look at you, but around the room. “Prison was heaven compared to jail,” he says.

Thinking of my architecture project, I ask, naively, “Did you get any chance to express yourself in jail?” He stares at me for a second—to check if I’m serious—then bursts into a fit of bitter laughter, looking incredulously around to my colleagues.

“You showered in front of guards, in front of other men, next to strangers,” he said. “All of your belongings were in a single, cardboard box under the bottom bunk in a room of about a hundred other bunk beds. You couldn’t trust anyone, so you didn’t sleep. You woke up restlessly at 6 a.m. to the morning call. Line up at your bed, report your number. You’d eat your breakfast in five minutes or less. Guards would watch you— make sure you didn’t share your food. You weren’t allowed to share your food. I pushed the laundry cart for hours for good behavior. I didn’t have time to finish my GED, because I had to push the laundry cart before I could take classes.”

“I took drug addiction classes for good behavior too. Why don’t they have any classes for drug dealing?” he asks. “I’m addicted to the feel of that money in my hand. Money is a drug.”

He begins to speak about his neighborhood. Shows me a faded tattoo on his left bicep that depicts the street he lives on. He’s lived on the street for his entire life. “I would’ve died for my street back then,” he says. “We used to roll dice in the streets, guns at hand. I got shot in the back once. Didn’t get injured too bad though.”

“Now, all I can see is cousins shooting cousins,” he says. “Brothers shooting brothers. I can’t—” abruptly, he stops. Puts his fingers into the shape of a gun, and looks directly into my eyes. He sticks his pointer finger into my side. He is uncomfortably close, towering over me.

“Could you shoot someone and be okay with it? Does it make me a bad person if I could?”

Dumbfounded, I don’t have a reply.

The new Indianapolis jail calls for 4,000 beds. How can you begin to think about the individual person while designing a jail for four thousand people? How can the abstract concept of even “someone in jail” become a real person with thoughts, quirks, loved ones, parents, and a home?

A gaggle of college students meanders through aisles of cages with notebooks and pencils. Silly notes are scrawled across the pages. Metal clangs on metal as the vestibule gates shut. The students gawk at the iron bars, stained cots, and barbed wire. “Don’t feed the animals!” one man shouts defiantly, angrily, sarcastically. The tour guide refuses to be fazed and enthusiastically spews euphemisms about the men, their work, and their reformation. “They make twenty-five cents an hour for skilled labor,” she says. “Quite productive members of society,” she says. “Except for those on Ex-Row” (she means Death Row). Those people are in solitary confinement for twenty-three hours a day and cannot see anyone outside of their cells until they are executed by lethal injection somewhere else— somewhere we don’t care about.

Concrete block upon concrete block without breaks for windows. Unending repetition of 6×9 cells. A ceiling so short that some of the men cannot fully stand up. A five-story fence to keep people from committing suicide or murdering their cell-mate. Black bodies veiled in off-white boxers. Naked men showering, their bodies exposed and all vestiges of individuality stripped. Slavery returns: shackles, cages, and white prison guards fingering their guns.

Slaves to Corporations

“Through a public-private partnership,” the former mayor says, “the new Indianapolis jail would have been able to house overflow prisoners from other states, thus generating profit for the city of Indianapolis.”

“Private prisons don’t exist,” he says, almost in the same sentence.

“Prisoners make more than twenty-five cents an hour!” he says. “This is preposterous! Corporations don’t use prisoners for labor!”

I pass him a sheet, courtesy of Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, professor, and minister Chris Hedges, that lists thirty-three companies that have or continue to profit from prison slave labor.(4)

Starbucks. Walmart. Dell. Microsoft. Businesses that we all frequent. Businesses with logos ingrained in the recesses of the American consciousness. The former mayor snatches his spectacles from his pocket and hastily grabs the sheet. He is visibly flushed. His tone turns angry. “I don’t believe this,” he says.

Later, he e-mails us, lauding our passion but encouraging us to temper our ‘opinions’ with facts and logic.

On the way to a project critique in Indianapolis, my phone vibrates. It’s DJ. I haven’t heard from him in a while but had invited him to the review.

“I just got out of jail,” the text says. “I wanna come, but they towed my car.”

We pick him up at his family’s house. His family is wary of my professor, an older, white man, approaching their doorway. DJ assures his family that he made a commitment, and that he intends to keep it.

At the review, people filter in and out. DJ remains, talking to us for hours.

“Who’s Jim Crow?” He asks, pointing to the label on a diagram.

“The figure representing the demonization of African Americans by white people,” I reply. As author Michelle Alexander asserts in her book The New Jim Crow: It is fair to say that we have witnessed an evolution in the United States from a racial caste system based entirely on exploitation (slavery), to one based largely on subordination (Jim Crow), to one defined by marginalization (mass incarceration). (5)

He pulls up a webpage on his phone excitedly. “I saw something online the other day, he says.” He types in the word ‘black.’ Its synonyms are evil, dark, and mysterious. He looks up ‘white.’ Good. Bright. Pure.

“They teach us to hate ourselves, he says. We’re just part of their game, and I can’t get out.”

Design of Mass Incarceration

Mass incarceration— the incarceration of millions of Americans— is an intentional design (6). The design is enforced by legislators and perpetuated by the people who profit from punishment. More often than not, these two groups collude: ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Commission, allied corporations and legislators for years (7). During its decades-long prominence, ALEC successfully passed many laws that increased the body count in jails and prisons (8).

These laws contribute to the cyclical design of mass incarceration: nationally, 76.6% of people who leave prison return within five years (9). Bodies in; jobless, stigmatized, de-socialized, disenfranchised ‘felons’ out. Repeat.

So why should we build more prisons and jails? More guard towers and cages without windows? Why should DJ filter in and out of jail? Why should we continue to perpetuate this system of greedy retributive justice that, as evidenced by a staggering recidivism rate, clearly does not work?

Maybe we shouldn’t.

A New Design

The architectural response to this research demands reparations from the corporations that have profited from prison labor. These corporations— Starbucks, Walmart, Victoria’s Secret, Dell, Microsoft, Chevron, Bank of America, IBM, Motorola, AT&T, Nintendo, J.C. Penney, Sears, Kmart, Eddie Bauer, Wendy’s, Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Fruit of the Loom, Motorola, Caterpillar, Sara Lee, Quaker Oats, Mary Kay, Texas Instruments, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel, Nordstrom’s, Revlon, Macy’s, Pierre Cardin, and Target— will pay for their crimes against the people that they systematically forklifted into the storage warehouses that are jails and prisons (op cit 4).

Corporations will pay these reparations by paying to house the people who are awaiting trial within homes that are near the businesses themselves.

For illustration of this concept, in downtown Indianapolis, there is a Starbucks on Monument Circle. It rests on the first floor of an office building. In this proposal, two of the floors of the office building are renovated into apartments that promote communal living through shared spaces. These apartments are for people who have committed a crime, and are accessible by an elevator that is common to the entire building. This common elevator lessens the stigma attached with having committed a crime. People do not know if you are going to the Starbucks, up the elevator to the offices, or to the apartments.

The Starbucks itself has its own role: it is here that the trials take place. You meet with a judge or official mediator that you’ve met with before. A jury of peers sits next to you. The Starbucks barista brings you hot coffees, on the house, during the deliberation. When the trial is over, you are connected to different services: addiction classes, housing services, etc.; whatever it is that you, as an individual, would like to be connected to.

Perhaps after funding this new system— a system that punishes corporations for decades of profiting from the punishment they sought— corporations would better understand the difference between profit and exploitation.

We drive DJ back to his home after the project critique. His family isn’t at the door this time. He decides to teach us his handshake after we open the van door. It is a simple, loose gripped movement.

“We’re not from the same world,” he says as he departs.


5. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, page 219

Hannah Boyd is an architecture student at Ball State University who is interested in how architecture can address questions of social justice.

June 23rd, 2017

This essay continues our investigation of America’s prison system, and extends D-A-P’s collaboration with Ball State architecture students into the fifth year. —Ed.

Julia Voigt

Despite jails being one of the most recognizable typologies of the built environment, the criminal justice system itself is far removed from the realm of the architectural profession. This lack of attention given to the penal system within the profession highlights a larger, societal issue at hand: that, as noted by author Michelle Alexander, “… criminals are the one social group in America that nearly everyone–across political, racial and class boundaries–feels free to hate” (Alexander 228).
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April 16th, 2017

David Stairs

Every once in awhile you meet a group of students that stands out. This was the case with my Junior studio a year ago. When we collaborated with the School of Businesses’ entrepreneurial contest, they were all in, and we just clicked. I knew 2017 would be my year to mentor our Graphic Design capstone project, and I wanted it to be good, so I signed up to teach the Fall senior studio leading into the winter capstone.
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February 25th, 2017

David Stairs

Image: David Stairs

I recently started reading Volker Ullrich’s biography HITLER: Ascent 1889-1939 out of a curiosity to better understand the motivations of the man often ranked as history’s most malevolent monster. Along the way I became fascinated by the parallels between Uncle Adolf and a more recent demagogue of the American ilk. These are the similarities I noted:
•Mendacious use of facts
•Scapegoating a religious group
•Extreme nationalism
•Intolerance for criticism
•Bullying as a defense tactic
•Inciting violence
•Contempt for adversaries
•Dislike for administrative work
•Prima donna tendencies
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January 13th, 2017

David Stairs

Control is the object of consolidation, what Nietsche once called the “will to power.”

Soul Searching

Consider the rise of multinational corporations. Monopoly is the capitalist ideal. Although shrouded in so-called antitrust laws preventing market domination— the idea being that competition is healthy for markets— captains of industry have always sought market dominance. For brief periods of time some capitalists, Henry Ford and John D. Rockefeller to name two, dominated their industries and became enormously wealthy.
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November 20th, 2016

Carter Scholz

In the prehistory of personal computers, Lee Felsenstein and some others created Community Memory in Berkeley in 1974: a publicly available teletype terminal, connected to a mainframe computer via 110-baud modem. Users could post and read messages at a few different sites. Felsenstein had read Ivan Illich, and he saw this as a tool for conviviality. It was a novel vision in a time of monolithic mainframes: computers as liberating and empowering, both personally and socially.

Lee Felsenstein / Courtesy Lee
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October 22nd, 2016

David Stairs

When I think of blue and red the notion of Democrat and Republican naturally come to mind. One can find any number of red-blue maps online that attempt to represent our political differences. I even wrote about it here after the last Presidential election. Happily, there is another, earlier visual application of red and blue: the road maps of the 1930s to 1950s.

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September 19th, 2016

David Stairs

Downtown Mount Pleasant, Michigan on the morning of July 16th, 2016

Some things about the Michigan summer are a certainty: mosquitoes, humidity, and recreation vehicles. Summer’s the season when snowmobile trailers are swapped out for boat hitches, and the weekend traffic going north on Michigan’s highways likely includes people from Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois headed for resort towns near Michigan’s lakes.

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August 19th, 2016

David Stairs

I’ve written the past couple of summers about Portland, Oregon and its environmentally-friendly culture. I visited my family again last month, as I normally do in July, just in time for the unveiling of a major new corporate/municipal project. On July 19th Portland launched the Biketown bicycle-share initiative. With a fleet of Dutch-designed bikes, and a system of around 100 rental stations, Portland joined the ranks of cities like New York, in pursuit of the notion of universal car-free mobility.

A Biketown bike locked outside the Niketown store on MLK Boulevard in Portland

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July 15th, 2016

David Stairs

When I first saw the house, a big old Victorian three-story I thought, “This place is great, but it’s way too big.” I’d been living abroad for a couple of years, and returning to rental space in a college town, where rentals are either of the townhouse variety, or student-destroyed older homes, had me on the real estate market. I already owned one house, but it was in another state, and this wasn’t helping my current situation.

photo: Al Wildey

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June 13th, 2016

This is the third in an annual series of essays by students of the Ball State University Architecture program. Previous works by Jesse McClain and Phil Borkowski appeared in 2014 and 2015. —Ed.

Kenna Gibson

I am from a small town 10 miles away from Muncie, Indiana. Muncie: home of Ball State University, former home of Ball Corporation, BorgWarner, Delco Remy, General Motors, A. E. Boyce Company, and Westinghouse Electric. The list of industries that have left the city is much longer than the list of those that have stayed. For my third year architecture studio, we were to connect machines with the rust belt. What we were supposed to create, probably something that would aid the citizens, neither I nor my professor, Wes Janz, really knew. Easy enough, I thought, because I live in the Rust Belt.

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May 7th, 2016

David Stairs

It’s been 10 years since this article first appeared as Bruce Mau and the Apotheosis of Data. We’re re-posting it here in our continuing celebration of D-A-P’s tenth anniversary, and because it is no less pertinent now than it was in 2006. —Ed.

Soothsaying: The New Science of Designing For Nine Billion
“The wits, therefore, of the Utopians, inured and exercised in learning, be marvelous quick in the inventions of feats helping anything to the advantage of wealth of life.” 1 —Thomas More Utopia

Foretelling the future has been professionalized. Once the domain of soothsayers, astrologists, and mountebanks, now, futurology has become the domain of designers and other improvers of humankind.

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April 7th, 2016

David Stairs

Last week I was talking with my 16-year-old about his piano lesson when I asked him whether his tutor had emailed him before rescheduling a recent lesson. “Dad,” he chuckled, “I can’t believe you said that.” Translation: no one of sound mind uses anything but text as a means of communicating these days. I reminded him that not long ago I might have wondered if his instructor had “called” him with the message, but the point was made. There isn’t a day that passes when I am not reminded of how quickly I’m obsolescing.

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March 7th, 2016

David Stairs

Design Altruism Project started ten years ago today with this post. From its humble beginnings it essayed to represent new notions of professional practice from a variety of viewpoints, both new and established. We wanted to celebrate our tenth anniversary with an uplifting story.

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February 2nd, 2016

David Stairs

I haven’t yet been able to locate a source that estimates the overall number of vehicles that have been manufactured in the last century. In 1950 there were 50,000,000 cars in the world, not necessarily including all of the 16,500,000 Model Ts Ford produced between 1908 and 1927. In 2010 the number of passenger vehicle on the world’s roads passed 1-billion for the first time, figuring among them parts of 23,500,000 Volkswagon Beetles, and 40,000,000 Toyota Corollas. Let it suffice to say, we’ve built a helluva lot of cars since Henry Ford instituted the $5 workday.

With oil prices tanking to under $30 a barrel, car ownership is becoming a reality for greater numbers of people worldwide. China is now the world’s largest auto manufacturer, having produced upwards of 20,000,000 units in 2015. Ironically, car sales in America have declined, while pickup and SUV sales are booming. This closely follows the overproduction of oil, and implies a short-term lack of concern about climate change.

The all-time best-selling American vehicle, the Ford F-150 Courtesy of Consumer Reports

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January 1st, 2016

David Stairs

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times: design is not supposed to be about self-expression. It’s iterative. It’s altruistic. It’s problem solving. But it’s not supposed to be self-expressive. Considering the number of huge egos in the design world, this feels less and less plausible with the passing of time. In his lecture of 2003 celebrating Archeworks 10th anniversary Victor Margolin wrote that “Design is essentially a middle class profession that has delivered a comfortable life for middle class people, while also indulging the wealthy.”

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November 12th, 2015

David Stairs

I first met Evelyn Nabooze as a shy, pretty girl of thirteen in 2006 in a partly finished building near Bombo, Uganda when I served lunch to her and some other kids at James Lutwama’s place. James and I had been friends since he’d first approached me outside my apartment at Makerere University in 2001 hoping to collaborate.

Serving lunch at Arcadia Valley in 2006

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October 1st, 2015

Malika Soin

The title of this essay is inspired from Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s magical realist short story, “Light is like Water.” In the story, through textual narration, the reader visualizes the transformation of an everyday apartment setting to a sea world with floating objects. The realistic function of light is to brighten up a space but Márquez writes about the light from broken light bulbs drowning the apartment and submerging the objects. He also introduces floating and flying objects at the same time: a shawl flutters like a bird and floats in the apartment like a golden manta ray. He transforms mundane household objects into magical entities. In an attempt to create objects that fly and float using the tools of graphic design I chose three familiar objects from Indian culture. In literature, words are used to describe different aspects of everyday reality, revealing even the most obvious elements in a new light. In design the visual tools namely form, shape, color, and type are used to perform the above stated function. These objects are chosen as a result of the nostalgia experienced due to my displaced cultural context from India to Canada.

A street vendor selling food in paper cones in India

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