Denmark’s recently opened maximum-security Storstrøm Prison, the second-largest in the country, is meant to evoke feelings of a small provincial village, according to Scandinavian designers C.F. Møller Architects. Housing 250 inmates, the prison is meant to be rehabilitative while allowing prisoners to avoid the loss of social skills that comes with institutionalization. C.F. Møller has described it the “world’s most humane” prison.
Located on Denmark’s Falster island, Storstrøm Prison is organized around central community buildings and laid out more like a campus than a traditional prison. The four prisoner wings and maximum-security hall are sited in such a way as to mimic the urban fabric of the surrounding villages and form streets and squares, softening the transition between open society to a prison. All ten buildings, totaling 115,000-square feet altogether, are kept to a town-like scale as well and are generally the same height. The designers chose to model Storstrøm Prison after a miniature society that would provide inmates with social and practical skills, in keeping with the Scandinavian tradition of encouraging reform among inmates rather than enacting harsh punishment.
C.F. Møller chose to work different materials into each of the buildings on the site based on their programming. The five wings have been given a patterned brick façade, the activity building is a mix of concrete panels and glass, and the workshop building is clad in steel panels and concrete. The concrete is also embossed with a circular pattern throughout the campus in an attempt to keep the walls from feeling too institutional.
The attention to making the inmates and administrative staff feel comfortable extends to the interiors as well. Because natural lighting was emphasized throughout the project, all of the communal rooms and cells have large windows that are tilted to let viewers to take in the landscape up to the surrounding perimeter wall, without allowing anyone to see inside. A neutral color palette was chosen for the interior, to produce an effect that is calming without being too sterile. A double-height church and several non-denominational worship rooms are also available for both the prisoners and guards to use.
Communality is also emphasized, as cells are grouped in units of four to seven grouped around a shared hub, with access to a living room and kitchen where inmates can make their own meals. The cells themselves are curved instead of being harshly angled, so that inmates can see the entire room from the door, while multiple windows fill their rooms with natural light.
Still, despite the amenities, the island is first and foremost a prison. A 20-foot wall surrounds the correctional facility, the entire island is covered in cameras, and steel wires are stretched across the top of each building to prevent helicopters from landing on them.
Storstrøm Prison is the result of a $160 million commission from the Danish Prison Service, as an attempt to create an environment that would help inmates more readily transition back to society after being released.