Jail that looks like concrete bunker mars Courthouse Square, dehumanizes those incarcerated

Posted 10 February 2023 at 2:30 pm


I agree wholeheartedly with the description of the jail in an editorial by Tom Rivers: “County leaders put a giant turd among our best buildings” in 1970.

That building completely violates all the traditional patterning and proportional systems employed by all its pre-existing neighbors. The delicately detailed vocabulary, vertically oriented, archetypal classical tri-part base-middle-top arrangement of the buildings of, and around Courthouse Square, are disgraced with the brutality of the detail-less, horizontally oriented, unsympathetic brutalist concrete bunker.

Obviously, the jail looks like a jail, but its massing and scale intimidates, instead of enhances the Square.

I’m afraid that the suggestion of disguising the jail with landscaping or murals is just putting lipstick on a turd. The only way to fix that relationship is to tear it down and rebuild it (possibly elsewhere), or do a serious façade make over that breaks up the long low massing into architectural components that can be re-oriented vertically and with adding appropriate details more reflective of a civilized society.

Incarceration was originally understood as a “re-boot” in re-civilizing those who strayed from being civil. Putting those people in a brutalist bunker like animals in a cage just reaffirms uncivilized behavior.

I’m not saying that prisoners should be housed in a country club setting, but that the outside of the building should represent positive civic ideals.

David Strabel


(Mr. Strabel, a Clarendon native, is an architect.)