This Beautiful Building Is Actually a Prison

Wait 'til you see the basketball court.

Nanterre Minimum-Security Prison by LAN
© Cyrille Weiner + © Charly Broyez, Courtesy of LAN

The French, they’re so avant-garde, aren’t they? Case in point: In the western suburbs of Paris, this striking minimalist building, set within a mixed-use residential and industrial neighborhood of Nanterre, looks like a chic new boutique hotel, or at the very least the headquarters of some cutting-edge design group. But it’s actually something much less expected:a minimum-security prison.

Designed by Paris-based architectural firm LAN, the structure appears to be an opaque rectangular box with little to look twice at outside of the dramatic shape that rises from the single-family houses and industrial buildings that surround it. The facade is covered in a series of rust-resistant steel sheets that are subtly perforated to allow light to penetrate the interior while maintaining the privacy and security of the edifice. In other words, the windows are virtually invisible unless the automated shutters are triggered or the light hits them just right. A massive opening at the southern edge of the prison, which is lined in thermo-lacquered aluminum and plaster, provides an unexpectedly sculptural entrance to the prisoner area and helps reflect light into the center courtyard.

Nanterre Minimum-Security Prison by LAN
© Cyrille Weiner + © Charly Broyez, Courtesy of LAN

The surprises continue inside, where the basketball and handball courts look like a color-of-the-year project and walkways between the cellblocks overlook small gardens or the rainbow-hued courtyards.

“The relationship between prisons and their environment has always been complex,” says the LAN website. The ingeniously fluid design here seeks to simplify that relationship, helping unite the building with the neighborhood as a part of the urban architectural fabric while also providing enough separation to address the security needs of the facility. Only time will tell how many other cities and countries will follow suit.

Nanterre Minimum-Security Prison by LAN
© Cyrille Weiner + © Charly Broyez, Courtesy of LAN
Nanterre Minimum-Security Prison by LAN
© Cyrille Weiner + © Charly Broyez, Courtesy of LAN

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