This project developed a strategy for vacant public buildings and in particular for empty prisons in the Netherlands. The country currently has 64 operational prisons, spread throughout the country. But the Dutch government decided to close eight of these prisons between 2009 and 2012. Thus, the main question of this project was: what should be done with all those empty prisons?

The project aimed to explore the potential, but also the problems of empty prisons from an urban, architectural, but also economic perspective. The motivation to carry out such a project was based on three main reasons: The first reason concerned the massive size of the phenomenon itself. Not only the number of prisons that will be closed is large, but the physical presence of those prisons in the cities is massive as well. Prisons are usually not just large buildings, but are also surrounded by large supportive properties. The second reason concerned the urgency and need for action, as empty buildings of the size of a prison can have huge negative effects on their urban environment. The third reason was based on the remarkable spatial qualities of the interior spaces of prisons. Their central rooms with multiple floors resemble the qualities of theatres that can be re-programmed in an enriching way.

The reason for the closure of the prisons in the Netherlands is based on the decreasing number of prisoners, which is mainly caused by the growing use of electronic bracelets. By wearing electronic bracelets prisoners are allowed to return home, but usually have to stay inside their houses. Two out of eight prisons, the Scheveningen prison and the Rotterdam prison, were scheduled to close by 2009. The other six – in Alkmaar, Hoorn, Vught, Veenhuizen, Doetinchen, and Overloon – were supposed to close by 2012. This means that a total of 1346 cells became unused and around 100,000 square meters became vacant.

Criminal in a prison cell and at home with bracelet

Hotel in Rotterdam’s Noordsingel Prison

Nightclub in Rotterdam’s Noordsingel Prison

Title: A Strategy for the Void
Project: Study for a possible future of Dutch Prisons
Date: October 2009
Type: Self-initiated study
Location: Netherlands
Programme: Research on adaptive reuse of old architectural structures
Status: On-going
Client: Self-initiated
Team: Bernd Upmeyer, Alice Grégoire