Isolated Ecologies : A strategy for the reintegration of McNeil Island
Cole, Thomas Hanley
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This thesis argues for the value of isolation as a spatial strategy. In examining the situation of the contemporary prison, we find an institution swarming with contradictions. Relegated to the periphery of our urban centers, the prison requires isolation to ensure public safety which also removes it from critical examination. At the same time, the prison represents the space of redemption and confrontation with essential human individuality. As we begin to reexamine issues of architecture and justice, the situation of the prison represents a new problematic: how do we recognize the significance of the prison as a component of our built heritage while retaining a critical eye towards the shortcomings of the institution in the United States? In the case of the McNeil Island Corrections Center, we find a site that has been isolated from contemporary development. With the closing of the prison, we are challenged with how to memorialize the site of one of the oldest prisons in the country and how to imagine new situations that respect the heritage found there. This project recasts the prison island as a site of generative isolation; future engagement with the island will include the experience of isolation and, I argue, benefit from that experience. Unlike most contemporary attitudes toward abandoned prison structures that render space a theme park or tourist attraction, we might imagine the prison island as the most potent site of critical evaluation and reinterpretation of the architecture of isolation. This thesis proposes a strategy of limited public access to the historic components of the park while retaining the remainder of the island as a site of ecological experimentation and research. A series of architectural interventions develop as a method for exploring the potentials of the site and strategically adapting existing structures with a consistent attitude towards the value of isolation.
- Architecture