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5 Ways Former Prisons Can Find a Beautiful New Life

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Photo via Opus 5

In recent months, there's been a lot of debate over whether architects should design prisons, a discussion that hit a peak when the American Institute of Architects ruled earlier this year that its members should not refuse to design the controversial structures. Compared to prison architecture and its hazy ethics, the task of envisioning prison conversions seems like a wholly positive one. What can be more rewarding and intriguing than turning hubs of incarceration and execution into productive new spaces? The U.S. has no shortage of empty prisons begging to be rehabilitated, and there are a few ambitious visions in the works already (a movie studio! Condos! A sustainable farm!). While those projects get underway, take a look at how other prisons around the world have been transformed in the last few years.

Photos via Engelman Architecten

Het Arresthuis (Judgment House)—Roermond, the Netherlands

This 19th-century former Dutch prison was transformed into a boutique hotel by the Van der Valk hotels group and local firm Engelman Architecten several years ago. The 150 cells became 40 rooms and suites (which come with names like The Jailer and The Lawyer), with the original prison hallway serves as a glam, mod lounge.

Photo via Opus 5

Louviers Music School—Louviers, France

Originally a convent, this 17th-century building also served as a prison at one point before being converted into a music school in 1990. More recently, French studio Opus 5 gave the storied complex a glassy, two-level extension, which features a concert hall on the top floor and a music library on the bottom level.

Photo via Exit Architects

Palencia Civic Center—Palencia, Spain

In the hands of Madrid-based practice Exit Architects and architect Eduardo Delgado Orusco, a former brick prison building has turned into a polished (if still a little eerie) civic and cultural center. The four-winged complex now houses an auditorium, multi-purpose venues, and classrooms.

Photo via Dezeen

Jury Cafe—Melbourne, Australia

Melbourne's historic Pentridge Prison is in the process of being rehabilitated into a shopping and residential complex. One building within those prison walls has recently been converted into a 5,000-square-foot cafe, aptly named Jury Cafe, by Aussie firm Biasol: Design Studio. The austere concrete structure is now adorned with light plywood furniture and hanging lights.

Photo via Lagos Freedom Park/Facebook

Freedom Park—Lagos, Nigeria

Over the last five years, the colonial-era Broad Street Prisons in Lagos has been revived as a public park with various cultural venues. The effort was spearheaded by local architect Theo Lawson, who explained to the BBC: "Where the kitchen used to be, we put the food court. Where the records office was, we put a museum to tell the story and where the gallows were we put a stage." One cell block with units measuring four by eight feet has been kept in tact, and can be seen used as quiet work stations.

· No One Knows What to Do with All These Empty U.S. Prisons [Curbed]
· 689 of America's Prisons, in One Hypnotizing Database [Curbed]
· Should Architects Refuse to Design Solitary Confinement Cells? [Curbed]