Unlocking Pentonville

Her Majesty’s Prison Service is disposing of its inner city gaols, unlocking these sites for redevelopment. Our practice is located on the same road as the listed Pentonville Prison, and we want to contribute to the debate about its future.


Unlocking Pentonville aims to imagine a radical new vision for this area of Caledonian Road by producing a spatial, social and economic proposition for the prison site. Through an exhibition and a weekend of public debates and workshops that took place during the London Festival of Architecture, we invited the public and experts to participate in these discussions. Excerpts from these discussions can be listened to here.

Location: Caledonian Road, London

Event date: June 2017

Documenting Unlocking Pentonville

Unlocking Pentonville: Architectural Liberation in Self Initiated Projects

Images from Islington Local History Centre

Three themes are engaged by this project: Justice and Equality, Wellbeing and Memory. While there are links between unemployment, poor education, poor health, poverty, inadequate housing and crime, there are also questions around who is criminalised and which crimes are most likely to lead to imprisonment. Our project explored what sort of spatial and economic activities could support a more just society. Equally, it considered how to memorialise and reuse the listed prison structures, redeeming them for the future while acknowledging the influence they have had on the neighbourhood’s development and its identity.

Justice and equality
Pentonville Unlocked

Our proposals retain the K-shaped prison wings and the chapel at the focus of these, which is converted into a community hub. Prison walls are symbolically torn down and replaced with an open, outward-looking, optimistic new community where everyone can be a stakeholder in a new future.


We carved out a landscaped public open space at the focal point connected to new streets and vistas, with new routes across the site linked to the neighbourhood.

“I volunteer as a prison visitor, the building is totally unfit for purpose, it’s very grim . . . I find it very moving that you have turned it into something positive.”

Volunteer at Pentonville prison, who visited the exhibition

Provided throughout is housing of all sizes, types and standards, allowing a multi-generational, diverse and inclusive community to thrive here.


The key features of the prison complex – isolation in cells and vistas – are retained in the new scheme but in different a form. Former cell blocks are hollowed out and ruined, playing host to gardens. One wing is converted into a school of Creative Arts, feeding local colleges like the nearby Central St Martins. Workshops and creative space are provided on and near the Caledonian Road, some with retail outlets. A youth club and games area complement the public café.

Section AA - east to west
Section BB - north to south