Submitted by Ayla Gunerhan Adakli

Flipping Prisons: From Workcamps To Community Centers

United States - Jun 9, 2018 - 03:07   4753 views

MIT students and GrowingChange teamed up to convert the decommissioned Wagram Prison (Wagram, NC) into an agricultural community center. It is the first project of a potentially long-term collaboration. They plan to transform the former workcamps of North Carolina into sustainable sites where communities can benefit from outdoor activities, clinical support, vocational training and locally produced healthy food.

There are plenty of decommissioned prisons scattered throughout the rural landscape of North Carolina. Prisoners, primarily black men, were forced to build the roads of the state in these workcamp prisons back in the time. Today these places are shut down, but they stand as a symbol of incarceration and forced labor.

The map shows the open (grey x) and decommissioned (black x) prisons in North Carolina. The Wagram prison is marked with a red x. 

GrowingChange is a nonprofit organization that works with previously incarcerated youth and it has a plan for the future of these deactivated facilities. They would like the flip the prisons into agricultural community hubs. These former prisons will be the new centers of youth empowerment and their mission will be diverting youth from crime with education and social support. 

“The goal is to empower youth in a rural, low-wealth community by offering the support and companionship of a leading academic institution and establishing a long-term relationship between MIT students and GrowingChange,” said Joey Swerdin, a member of Group Project.

Group Project is a student group that has been formed by MIT School of Architecture and Planning students. They are the ones designing the transformation of the Wagram Prison.  Over the past year, they cooperated with GrowingChange to develop a series of proposals for the decommissioned prison. Now they are at the site, launching the second phase of the project.

The converted prison will be the new campus of GrowingChange. The construction has already started. This week they completed the demolition of the exercise pavilion. The former pavilion will be converted into the Hearth; a BBQ hut. There will be a museum, a conference center, a climbing wall, and a community kitchen in the renovated site of Wagram. Chefs of the Hearth and the community kitchen will use the ingredients grown on the site. GrowingChange has already started to grow vegetables on the site to provide local healthy food options to the community. As part of its master plan, they would like to incorporate other facilities to the transformed Wagram site including veteran community housing and counseling center. 

The guard tower of the prison will be transformed into a climbing wall. Tower's four sides will be divided between a rappelling wall, an entrance wall, and two climbing walls.

The upper platform of the tower will offer a larger and higher space. Operable wire mesh barriers within the large square openings will provide safety while still allowing each of the walls to be used for rappelling.

The entrance of the museum and conference space will be lively with greenery and activity. The proposed design includes the addition of a rooftop greenhouse, as well as enlarging existing windows to brighten the interiors.

The community kitchen will be the heart of the agricultural community center. Large glass openings will connect the exterior courtyard to the kitchen and will invite visitors inside to watch chefs prepare healthy food, using ingredients grown on the campus.

Prison buildings are inherently inward facing. Group Project would like to change this. A new porch next to the community kitchen will reclaim outdoor space for eating and lounging. Additional porches will be used throughout the site to encourage a more outward facing campus vibe.

The Hearth’s oversized roof will provide shading and lots of space to cook, chat, and chill.

A colorful illustration which shows the different type of planting throughout the Growing Change campus. The planting is organized to create a range of spaces—from an intimate and enclosed space for bonfires to the grand entrance leading to the exhibition space. Edible gardens are also planned throughout the campus.

All images courtesy of Group Project and GrowingChange

> via Group Project and GrowingChange