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Prisoners Have Some Ingenious Ideas on How to Make the Most of Tiny Apartments

In Italy, prisoners teamed up with designers to re-imagine the cell

Around the world, from the U.S. to the U.K. to Canada, homes are getting smaller. Some people choose to shirk the excesses of bygone eras. Some opt for smaller abodes to keep utilities down and save the planet. Rising prices push others into cramped quarters. But whatever the reason, the square-footage we each get to call home is on the way down, and living in smaller houses means making better use of what space we have.

One group of people are already experts at living in confined places. They are neither hippies nor minimalists nor struggling to pay rent. They were put there by the law—they are prisoners. In Italy, an intriguing project saw inmates at a high security prison in Spoleto team up with the design firm Cibic Workshop to have the inmates redesign their own living quarters. What they came up with, says Gizmodo, is quite inventive:

At twelve by eight feet, the prototype is the exact dimensions of the cells where the prisoner/designers live, and it incorporates their collective experiences living in 96-square-foot rooms. Mostly, their ideas are surprisingly simple—after all, living in a pillbox, you glean a few subtleties about detailed space planning. For example, the prisoners explained that they had taken to building shelving out of cigarette cartons—so they created a long line of shelves that snake along the wall. There’s storage packed into every square inch of the place, from around the bathroom mirror to under the beds, and every flat surface has a specific purpose, including a sliding counter that attaches to the sink.

“Although the designers don’t expect the Freedom Room to be adopted for use inside prisons,” says The Verge, “they hope the concept will spark a conversation about improving the living conditions inside Italian correctional facilities.”

“Whether or not the prototype is implemented in prisons,” says Gizmodo, “the designers at Cibic also hope that Freedom Room could serve as a model for low-income social housing and youth hostels—hence their introduction to the project, which reads, ’4 x 2.7 meters are the dimensions of a prison cell, but this is not a cell.’”

More from Smithsonian.com:

Micro Apartments Are the Future of Urban Living
430 Square Foot Apartment Isn’t Too Small for Indoor/Outdoor Shower

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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