When one sees for the first time the Leoben Justice Centre in Austria, he can be forgiven to mistake it for an office building or even a museum. In fact, it is the latest modern prison/courts building, from Graz-based Austrian architects Hohensinn.
Surrounded by glass, filled with art and vintage furniture, this prison looks nothing like any other. You have to see – and see again – the barbed wire fence around the building to believe it. Austrian authorities decided that depriving the liberty of inmates leads to re-socialisation problems. This led Hohensinn to reconfiguring the prison as a place that mimics outside life without compromising security.
The inmates are housed in residential units of 15, their cells have all natural light, comfortable furniture and TV screens. Many items are from well known designers and brands: check the green Verner Panton chairs below. You can see vintage furniture and art in the lobbies and common spaces. This is no Alcatraz for sure.
Each unit’s prisoners can move freely within their area, having access to all their communal spaces at all times. They each have an outdoor space as well. One has to wonder if this type of prison does not invite crime: troubled people with no money and resources could actually commit crime just to be sheltered within this seemingly wonderful prison. But this place is for white collar crime inmates and temporary stays, so it will probably not cause crime rise in Austria.
The glass towers that comprise the upper part of the building are connected with glass bridges. These also connect them to regional and county courts. The corridors of the complex have interesting pictograms on their ceilings (check the 2nd photograph) and can be seen from outside through the transparent glass walls.
Use of light coloured wood in combination with metal and glass, designed with minimal, sleek lines, contributes to a clean straightforward feeling. The natural light that enters through the vast glass walls travels inside the buildings as they use glass also for interior walls.
Concrete finishes are also used in communal areas. The colour is left to the furniture and kitchen cupboards, punctuating the rooms with vibrancy and design. The room above looks like a MOMA art installation.
View from above – a courtyard.