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Angels Alone

Sebastian Tiew

Could VR reinvent the architecture of prison?


Set in the year 2035, "Angels Alone" is a work by Sebastian Tiew that takes into consideration a much-forgotten issue of contemporary society: prisons and their prisoners.
Completed at the Architectural Association 2018, with Inigo Minns and Manijeh Verghese as tutors, this short film rethinks the use of VR as a tool for rehabilitation programs.

Prison time usually fails to rehabilitate people, as it is often thought as a way to protect society from crimes, rather than rethink its structure and the constraints that lead to unlawful behavior. Prisoners are criminals, not individuals, as Tiew points out in the video, their backstories, goals and hopes are ignored throughout the time they are detained into facilities.

"Angels Alone" wants to get rid of labels, to reinvent rehabilitation processes through the use of virtual and simulated realities and the introduction of the role play games to provide individually designed treatments. As many industries are already exploring this field of experimentation to rethink therapies, why don't let prisons do the same?

A possible solution is to subvert the very infostructure of the prison from the inside out, by examining their mechanisms and frameworks for accommodating a simulated rehabilitation for the convicted ones, says Tiew in the video, but also open up the architecture towards the virtual and the simulated, to make digital and real work together, seamlessly, to create a third space. In this prison, architecture is no longer a form of control. This is a subversion of the panopticon model, as Foucault would say, but an incomplete one, as the architecture does not disappear but becomes an interface, controlled by a second party and by a reward scheme, which should be taken, in my opinion, in great consideration and become the subject of a further analysis, as it would advantage the dutiful prisoners, failing to integrate other ones. And, what's more, it is more interested in correcting than in rehabilitating, in not letting people behind.

However, from an architectural point of view, the multisensory technology would sustain and reinforce the feeling of being elsewhere, not constrained. This means that it would provide mental healing, not only by rethinking the space and opening it up, but also slowing (and not erasing) time, providing an open window on the seasons and the societal transformations, enabling individuals to analyze the reasons why they are now convicted.

Designed to be an animated film, providing the viewer with glimpses of how the technology could work, Sebastian Tiew's project leads us in a very near future, almost identical to the present, in which this technology is available. His idea is challenging from every point of view, for each field it crosses, able to integrate our technological research in the renovation of a system which has proven to be in need of a deep revolution.

(Story by Sara Marzullo, The Architecture Player)

Authors icon Credits

Mentioned project: Angels Alone
Narrated by: Sebastian Tiew

United Kingdom 2018
Duration: 9'32"