AIA AAJ Blog – Final Thoughts


The sessions at the AIA AAJ conference 2017 had three tracts: courts, corrections and detention, and law enforcement. One of my goals with this final blog post is to help future scholars in understanding their role for those who, like me, never attended an AIA conference before. Interdisciplinary Justice was the topic presented when I discovered I won the scholarship. I assumed the sessions would be organized around this topic, and even though it was mentioned by conference leaders, the individual sessions did not focus on this as a main topic.

            Because my career has led me to detention oriented projects, I tended to lean towards those sessions when choosing which tract to follow, but I did branch out to courthouses when the topic interested me. Along with the sessions, there were additional speakers and events. For example, the panel discussions and documentaries presented by the sustainability committee were welcomed accompaniments to the sessions. Tours of facilities in the area were also provided and nothing is more helpful with design than seeing its practices in use.

            Another big part of the conference is sub-committees. As a part of the justice partners committee, I was unaware of their role until after the conference The committees work diligently behind the scenes to organize the conferences, and each member volunteers their time to be a part of a larger goal.

            The topics discussed in the sessions were very informative and I’d like to summarize some of them here. As precedent projects, the first two sessions I sat in on presented actual design solutions to the problems we face in the detention industry. Focusing on the design intent, plan example, photos and owner representatives, the presentations and questions were interactive and in depth than I expected. The Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative from Jasper County, Missouri was also one that personally surprised me. The Initiative shifted the paradigm from detention programming to diversion programing. Now, detaining or detention is only used if the child is a danger to themselves or others.  I wish more Juvenile Justice Departments would implement this initiative into their detention facilities.

            Having a personal interest in the Juvenile detention realm, I also sat in on the presentation for the Youth Detention Center in Baltimore. The “blueprint” of their education model was presented and was very interesting to say the least. While in the facility, staff works closely with local schools, requires the children to wear uniforms, and follows a similar curriculum. While the children are outside the facility, one important aspect was the transition specialist that actually tracks the children once released, ensuring they have the resources they need to not end up back in the same situation again.

            Along the same lines, Sarah Huggins was a visiting panelist in the “Architecture, Security, and Programs” Session where she presented the REAL program; Recovery from Everyday Addictive Lifestyle. This is a program where staff provides music, activities, yoga, and education; all donated and volunteered through the community so there is no burden to tax payers for these programs. For her, a PhD, offering a viewpoint outside of architecture, we need to design for normalization while keeping in mind that everyone has a background and reason why they are in the situation they are in. She asked us to understand the difference in resilience vs. trauma, inmates vs. your average traumatized adults, and what makes them different. Getting the outside perspective was very powerful. Another example, Sherriff C.T. Woody Jr. was quoted during a presentation saying “The jail is in the community and the community is in the jail.”

            Another interesting aspect to the conference was the Keynote lunch. A powerful message, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman discussed the importance of getting division into the prisons and jails and get people out of the general jail population that don’t necessarily need to be there. The way we could classify these individuals is to ask ourselves, are they a danger to others? i.e. prostitutes, trafficking, etc. Yes, they have broken the law, but do they need to be detained the same as someone who has injured others?

            The few courthouse tract sessions I sat in on were also those I felt closely related to issues I deal with on a daily basis. One topic was Gender Justice, and how that relates to lady justice herself. A lot of the audience responses seemed to be centered on the illusion that a man equals power and a woman equals emotion or clouded judgement.

            Mental health was another topic discussed in multiple sessions. Though there are not mental hospitals anymore, the types of facilities that cater to the mentally ill are becoming increasingly popular. They are getting funding more and more because of the rise in mental health being an important factor to society. The changes here also come from public perception and the responsiveness to recidivism. 

            In closing, I’d like to quote Rona Rothenberg, one of the visiting panelists, “It’s history, not just concrete.” The decisions we make as designers everyday influence society and are a reflection of our passion to what we do. For me, the conference wasn’t just a networking tool as I expected, but a coming together of individuals who share a common interest and are dedicated to a cause. The conference opened my mind to many possibilities for future designs and opportunities to better society and the way the detention, courthouse, and law enforcement are used.



By: Christian Springfield, Project Manager at Wakefield Beasley & Associates [link to:]

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