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Justice in Design

Photo: Seth Wenig (AP)

How can we create designs that are more healthy, rehabilitative, and respectful to those in jail and the communities that interact with them?

Speaker Mark-Viverito and the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, with Van Alen Institute, launched the Justice in Design initiative to develop design ideas for a healthier and more effective New York City jail system. We aim to better understand how jails impact the health and well-being of both the people inside them and the communities in which they sit.

The project aims to develop innovative, realistic, and progressive programming and design guidelines for new jail facilities. The Commission, which was convened at the request of New York City Speaker Melissa Mark-Viterito to explore ways to craft a blueprint for the future of criminal justice in the city, is completing its final report and will use this work to inform jail facility design principles within the report.

To inform the guidelines, a team of architects, environmental psychologists, and incarceration experts will engage with key stakeholders in three different community workshops in the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn.

The selected Justice in Design project team consists of NADAAA, an award-winning architectural and design firm based in New York City and Boston, Susan Gottesfeld of the Osborne AssociationSusan Opotow of John Jay College of Criminal Justice and The Graduate Center, City University of New York, and Karen Kubey, an urbanist specializing in housing and health. Together the project partners represent a collaborative and multidisciplinary team with a range of experience in design, criminal justice, environmental psychology, affordable housing, and community engagement.

Justice in Design is part of Van Alen Institute’s broader inquiry into how behavior is shaped by the built environment, also explored in such initiatives as How Does the Brain Respond to the City?, an EEG workshop in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood presented with Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning & Preservation’s Cloud Lab; Ecologies of Addiction, a data-collecting research initiative exploring how the built environment impacts addiction in London, organized with Imperial College London’s Sustainable Society Network; and Shore to Core, a design and research competition that includes developing a framework to identify, measure, and analyze relationships between the design of the built environment and individuals’ wellbeing in downtown West Palm Beach, Florida and beyond.

We wanted your input! Three community workshops were held in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens in order for community stakeholders to share their input with the project team. They tackled questions like: How can we design a healthier jail system that is more rehabilitative and respectful to those in jail and the communities that interact with them? What types of social services and programming could help incarcerated individuals successfully re-enter the community? What type of neighborhood services and amenities that can benefit the community?



The Bronx workshop, held Monday February 6 at the Andrew Freedman Home, had a great community turnout. Participants spent the evening discussing the future of jails in New York City and brainstorming ways our jail system could be healthier to both those who inhabit and work inside jail facilities as well as to the communities in which jails sit. Many in attendance had been directly impacted by the criminal justice system and were able to share their experiences with the design team. Workshop groups focused on more rehabilitative models of justice, social services and programming for those both incarcerated and reentering, and neighborhood services and amenities that could benefit the community.

The Brooklyn Workshop, held Saturday February 11 at Roulette Intermedium, began with a walk to the Brooklyn Detention Center where participants examined and discussed the facility’s design and its connection to the community. Back at their workshop tables, groups considered different aspects of facility design and talked about ways jails could be a healthier and more rehabilitative facility for those who live and work inside. Like those in the Bronx, they also thought about more appropriate social services and programming for both incarcerated individuals and those reentering the community, as well as potential neighborhood services and amenities inside the jail that could benefit the community as a whole.

The Queens Workshop, held Thursday March 2 at the Queens Community House in Kew Gardens, offered a smaller, more intimate meeting around jail design. Many participants had been directly impacted by the criminal justice system and were able to share pointed and thoughtful suggestions on ways to improve jail design in the future. Groups held discussions around collage images to propose improvements to the detainee and visitor experience. Together, participants were able to make recommendations on ways a jail or justice center could better connect to a community through design and programming to ultimately become an asset to the surrounding neighborhoods.

Recent Work by NADAAA
Top Row: NADAAA's design of maker spaces has produced insight into practical training opportunities. Bottom Row: NADAAA worked with city and institutional stakeholders to reconsider the relationship of the Rhode Island School of Design and its urban context.
Outdoor community gathering areas and urban rooms are key in NADAAA's work.
Working with the City of Boston, NADAAA designed a mixed-use development with the aim of positive urban growth and local job creation.

The Justice in Design team, a multi-disciplinary group led by NADAAA in collaboration with the Osborne Association, Susan Opotow, and Karen Kubey, is focused on addressing the complex issues inherent in the design of jails and their relationship to a broader urban context. We believe decentralized justice centers can be neighborhood assets that support residents, businesses, visitors, and the people working and living inside.

Dan Gallagher and Nader Terani, NADAAA

NADAAA is a design practice dedicated to bridging design disciplines from landscape to urbanism, architecture to interiors, and industrial design to furniture. With an eye toward integrated thinking, we enter the discourse of technology, aesthetics, and building as part of a holistic process. Led by Daniel Gallagher and Nader Tehrani, Dean of the Irwin Chanin School of Architecture at the Cooper Union, NADAAA’s design methodology is built on research, analysis, and iteration, with a particular focus on progressive and innovative solutions to complex problems.

Susan Gottesfeld, The Osborne Association

The Osborne Association is one of the country’s largest and most effective non-profit organizations serving individuals and families affected by crime and incarceration. Osborne not only serves people involved in the criminal justice system, the majority of Osborne staff have personal experience with courtrooms, jails, and prisons. The Osborne team will be led by Susan Gottesfeld who oversees Osborne’s Rikers-based services.

Susan Opotow , John Jay College of Criminal Justice and The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Susan Opotow, a professor in the Sociology Department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and in the PhD program in Critical Social/Personality Psychology at The Graduate Center, City University of New York, is a social and environmental psychologist. Her research focuses on the psychology of conflict and justice, specifically exclusionary and inclusionary change and its effect on the well-being of marginalized groups.

Karen Kubey, urbanist specializing in housing and health

Karen Kubey is an urbanist specializing in housing and health. Her recent project partners include the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the New York City Housing Authority. Trained as an architect at the University of California, Berkeley, and Columbia University, Karen co-founded both the Architecture for Humanity New York chapter (now Open Architecture/New York) and New Housing New York, and was the first executive director of the Institute for Public Architecture.

Jayne Mooney, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York

Jayne Mooney, also a professor in the Sociology Department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York, is a criminal justice scholar with extensive experience in crime policy and research.

Proposals were reviewed by a jury with expertise across the worlds of design, architecture, incarceration, and environmental psychology, including a representative Van Alen Institute.

Courtney Bryan
Director of Criminal Justice OperationsCenter for Court Innovation

David ChapinArchitect and Professor, Ph.D. Program of Environmental PsychologyCUNY Graduate Center

Mylan DenersteinPartnerGibson, Dunn & Crutcher

Alta Indelman, Principal, Alta Indelman Architect

Michael JacobsonExecutive DirectorCUNY Institute for State & Local Governance

Jessica LaxDirector of CompetitionsVan Alen Institute

Stanley RichardsSenior Vice PresidentThe Fortune Society