Everything I learned about prison yards I learned from watching The Shawshank Redemption, or American History X, or any one of a myriad of television shows. But even with an excess of images floating around about the chain-linked spaces outside correctional facilities, I think we all understand that prisons are less glamorous when they aren’t softly lit and occupied by wealthy actors like Morgan Freeman. That’s why I was so surprised when I came across this video of a sports dome outside a prison in the Netherlands.
This is a unique project for an unusual jail. To start with, inmates here are confined to prison boats. It’s not that surprising for the Netherlands, but I think the last time Americans really thought about prison boats was during the Revolutionary War (where more Americans died from neglect on British prison ships than died in every battle of the war combined.) Also, the folks confined at Zaandam aren’t violent or dangerous criminals at all – they’re illegal immigrants. Lastly, the inmates have this fantastic sports dome designed by product designer Willem van der Sluis who runs the design studio Customr.
The dome is shaped to make the interior feel more generous and expansive. It is covered in a gradient of perforations to control visual access at eye level, but also the recreate a pattern of shadows that resemes a canopy of trees. It’s hard to imagine this kind of project at a prison in the States, and if I saw such a thing in a movie or on television I probably wouldn’t believe it. Unless the show was called “Locked Up Abroad.”