Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary (ESP) opened in 1829 and is considered the world’s first true penitentiary. The building’s innovative radial plan, designed by architect John Haviland, proved influential on a global scale as an architectural marvel built to instill penitence in the hearts of its inhabitants through solitary confinement. Active from 1829 to 1971, Eastern State is an artifact of the evolution of the American penal system woven into a complex building chronology spanning over 140 years.
Cellblock 3 was first occupied by prisoners in 1831. Over the course of several decades, the cellblock transformed from a building designed for separate confinement into a well-equipped prison hospital. By the mid-20th century, some considered it the best prison hospital in the state. Most of the initial facilities in the hospital were for the treatment of tuberculosis, one of the deadliest diseases of the 19th century and the single greatest cause of death in the prison.
Today, Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site (ESPHS) is a place where visitors make connections between past and present and encounter questions about equity, justice, and the law in America. In recent years, staff have increasingly used the power of this rich historic setting to deepen the national conversation about mass incarceration—one of the most critical civil rights issues of our time—while remaining uncompromising stewards of this National Historic Landmark.
Essential stabilization work was completed, and Cellblock 3 opened to the public in 2017. Unlike many other cellblocks at Eastern State, Cellblock 3 is only available to visitors via a guide-led tour on a limited schedule.
As part of this studio, students assessed the current values and conditions of Cellblock 3, developed an architectural conservation strategy, including prioritizing projects for spaces not currently open to visitors and accessible to staff, and developed of an interpretive approach, especially around contemporary issues of healthcare and healthcare in prisons.
Student team: Yi-Ju Chen, Elizabeth Donison, Cameron Moon, Qianhui Ni, Ying Wang, Priyanka Gorasia, Diyi Zhang, Anyuan Ji, Yuxuan Wu, Yixiao Hu