“To say all in one word, [the panopticon] will be found applicable, I think,
without exception, to all establishments whatsoever”
– Jeremy Bentham
Since the 1780s, hundreds of articles discuss Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon. But, no structure was ever built to the exact dimensions Bentham gives in his panopticon letters. Seeking to translate Bentham into the digital age, I followed his directions and descriptions to create an open source, virtual reality computer model of the panopticon.
Below, you can view the animation about this structure. Visit this link to view the panopticon in virtual reality. Or click here to download and edit my model (requires Sketchup).
Transcription of audio narration:
The panopticon is the form of the ideal prison, designed around 1787 by English philosopher Jeremy Bentham. Over 300 prisons around the world follow this model:
- A circle of diameter 100 feet
- Around the perimeter of this circle stretch cells
- Each cell is 9 feet deep
- And 48 per floor
- Each cell has a toilet, a bed, and space to work
- The cells rise six floors
On every other floor, there is a surveillance corridor, in which a guard may survey two floors of prisoners. The guard watches the prisoners. But the prisoners do not see the guard and do not know when they are watched. And must therefore act as if they were always watched. Three guards each see 96 prisoners, which makes 288 prisoners total.
In the center of the space, there is an auditorium, in which the prisoners may assemble to be lectured. A wall of screens may rise surrounding the chapel. And separating the prisoners from seeing into it, or from seeing each other from across the void of the empty space in middle.
Spiral staircases ascend through the space. And an iron and glass frame rises through the space and vaults over the chapel.
This completes the panopticon, the form of the ideal prison.
– View panopticon model in virtual reality
– Explore the related panopticon prison of Eastern State Penitentiary
Supervised by Max Sternberg
Audio narration by Tamsin Morton
Audio credits from Freesound
– panopticon interior ambiance
– panopticon exterior ambiance
– prison door closing
– low-pitched bell sound
– high-pitched bell sound
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