As a longtime resident of New York City and someone who has lived in a college dormitory, I’d like to think I know how to make the most out of minimal square footage and how to maximize the efficiency and livability of cramped quarters. I do not, however, know the slightest about the finer points of prison cell design with my main points of reference to the world of correctional facility housing being from film and TV — HBO’s “Oz,” John Water’s “Cry Baby,” and several godawful exploitation films from the 1970s that I won't mention here.
The result of the collaboration is a prototype micro-housing module measuring a mere 116-square-feet. For the project, dubbed Freedom Room, carpentry-savvy inmates from a high-security correctional facility in the Umbrian city of Spoleto served as official design consultants.
The end goal of Freedom Room isn’t necessarily to improve living conditions within Italian prigiones even though inmates played a crucial role in its conception. Rather, Cibic Workshop and Comodo view the extremely adaptable/versatile module as a universal low-cost housing blueprint; a “proposal/product for innovative temporary or permanent solutions, spread hotels, student facilities, hostels."
The Freedom Room website goes on to explain:
A room that becomes a place designed to use the space at its best, for working, studying, living, enjoying. But also a room that becomes a tool for urban renovation in abandoned areas. Freedom room modules can be used inside industrial, commercial, non-commercial and urban areas fallen in disuse, pushing new social dynamics and re-shaping communities and neighbourhoods.
Working with a group of inmates they [Comodo and Cibic Workshop] came up with new ideas about 'low cost living’; about objects that have to be necessarily multifunctional; about spaces that must be flexible and adaptable. A cell is a closed shell, defined as a spatial module. For its inhabitants such space has to be a kitchen, a room, an office, a playroom, a closet, a gym, a library, and much more all at the same time. A place that is continuously reinvented by those who live inside it. A 'module' where a stool becomes an oven, a bed becomes a closet, a can becomes an antenna, a table becomes a gym. Inside the cell, one finds out that space necessarily has a flexible dimension that changes according to how it is experienced by each individual.
Castellano goes on to say:
Even in situations not characterized by overcrowding, which will naturally impede any minimal form of organization of basic day-to-day activities, prison cells are subject to very rigid rules concerning furniture and possible internal furnishings and accessories.
Everything is seen as an instrument for self-harm. I think that a project such as the ‘Freedom Room’ should be hailed as a breath of fresh air of great importance in terms of a possible cultural advancement within the prison setting. Inmates can become the proponents of a new ‘culture’ in their day-to-day living environment, starting with the difficult situation they experience on a permanent basis and transforming it into a resource. The depersonalization typical of such institutions can be effectively addressed and the fear of critical events and liability may thus be abated. I sincerely hope that prison administrations will consider and adopt this project to promote a ‘culture’ of prison life which, for the first time, may be determined to a certain extent by the inmates themselves.
Plenty more imagery and info over at the Freedom Room website (in English and Italian).