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Freedom Room: How Prisoners Helped Design a Modular, Low-Cost Living Space Freedom Room: How Prisoners Helped Design a Modular, Low-Cost Living Space

Freedom Room: How Prisoners Helped Design a Modular, Low-Cost Living Space

by Adele Peters

April 26, 2013

Who better understands how to live in small spaces than a prisoner? A group of Italian designers and researchers have been working with inmates at a high-security prison to teach them design—and the resulting collaboration has been an interesting new model for a low-cost, multifunctional living space.

As Comodo, CibicWorkshop, and inmates at the Prison of Spoleto started brainstorming new solutions for low-cost living, they were inspired by the prisoners' own experience of using a jail cell as an adaptable space—bedroom, office, library, etc.—and using objects for multiple purposes as well, like a table for a gym. 

They've designed the Freedom Room, a space with the dimensions of a prison cell, but with all of the basics of a modern apartment inside. The design could be used for student housing, hostels or low-cost hotels, or possibly as temporary living spaces in abandoned areas. It could also be used to redesign prison cells themselves. Last, the designers suggest that it could be used to help reshape how people relate to each other—an intriguing idea, though they don't explain in detail:

Freedom Room could also be a new local social network, a new way of accessing, booking, or otherwise relating to find out by whom and how the modules are occupied, letting you know your module’s neighbor and [their] habits, building up a virtual and a real community.

What other interesting innovation can result from teaching prisoners design? It's a way to give people with serious social challenges a more useful, marketable skill than something like simple assembly work. It might help prisoners better integrate with society when they're released, and perhaps even feel a stronger sense of self-worth. But it also might lead to more ideas, like this one, that come from unique experiences a designer living a normal life wouldn't have. Design thrives on constraints, and prisoners might have more practice in creativity than the rest of us.

Images courtesy of Freedom Room

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