Architecture of Control and Prisons in Shakers Religion Group

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The comparison made in the reading of shaker architecture to the prisons of the time is a stark view of these similar built environments. Nicoletta in, The Architecture of Control, argues an overall controlling undertone between the shaker and prison design that has a dark view of their relation to one another through architecture. I agree with Nicoletta that in terms of architecture, they are relatable but in other forms of comparison, there are clashing differences.

The shakers were a simple people that believed in a religion that create a better environment on earth through architecture. Prisons, on the other hand, were a more forceful implementation of control through architecture. The similarities come in with basic formations of architecture that are meant to control the user’s actions and emotions. These two types of design have similarities and differences that make them distinctly fall into their own spheres of architecture. Nicoletta goes a little too far with making the shaker dwellings equate to a prison. It is fascinating that the architecture of two buildings of contrasting purpose and function can be so similar in design elements. The shakers were seeking asylum in America from religious persecution in Britain and sought to create a version of utopian living in likeness to heaven through architecture on earth. The style of the shaker was further developed from the second great awakening into a religious group with focus on the personal relationship everyone could have with God.

The shakers built dwellings that were to house the families of the religious sect. Each “family” was not of blood but of their place in the church. Shakers further break down the sinful nature of a person through the idea of having no privacy and always being watched that helped the elders to maintain order among the brothers and sisters. The Millennial Laws provided more order and control through the way of architecture to the shaker homes.  In a quote, in the article, Nicoletta points out what the laws said about design, 'Odd or fanciful styles of architecture, may not be used among Believers,” (Nicoletta, 355). This shows that the architecture set out by the shakers was one of glorifying God and asserting control over the environment through architecture.Prisons were formed to hold and watch criminals forcefully and they had no option to leave. The prison separated the sexes just as in the shaker dwelling but for purposes of the organization. In the prison, it was not about religion it was more about maintaining order in the city by placing certain individuals in the facility.

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The distinct shift that separates the two types are that people of the shaker religion could leave. More of these differences become apparent in the interior design of each or lack thereof. The interior design of each of these two built architectures boils down to two very distinct and opposite things. Shaker interior design is inspired by the arts and crafts movement with simplicity, built-in furniture, and truth to materiality. Nicoletta points out these connections by sighting past scholars “Shakers' widespread use of built-ins derived from their love of sparseness and their desire to save space. Built-in furniture also provided another method of controlling behavior and asserting order within dwelling houses” (Nicoletta, 368). Shaker interior design lives on today with shaker style kitchen and overall arching principles that develop into these clean and organized formations of interiors.  In stark contrast, the interior design of a prison is something that does not exist because the main purpose of this space is to provide little joy or stimulation to those insides.

Though there are ways through interior design to see this sort of control it lends itself more to the built form of architecture than the interior. The concepts of control and reform are those that could not be achieved through interior design because of the vast scope they wish to influence and the intent on which they wish to draw the results. The main similarity of the shaker architecture and prisons is that they both seek to provide a sense of control to those in charge and to have authority over those living in these spaces. In the case of shakers, interior windows were used to provide control for the elders. Nicoletta points out in her article that, “Windows could, of course, function as a mode of surveillance. Shaker leaders, who lived on the upper floor of the meetinghouses …, used interior windows to watch worship meetings” (Nicoletta, 362).

The shaker religion was developed around the ideas of celibacy and making a connection to God by creating a utopian on earth. The architecture reflected these ideas directly such as having two entrances and two staircases one for each sex. The only time men and women would see each other would be in group gatherings of worship or events, otherwise, they worked and lived life separately. Nicoletta in her article states “The architecture of the dwellings kept them constantly aware of where they were and how they should behave” (Nicoletta, 367). Being aware of being watched helped to correct the behavior of the shakers in their families and workgroups. Prisons relate back to these ideas of control of being watched and how it can correct behavior. The ideas of the architecture play an important role in the later developed prisons that had watch towers built into the form to make the prisoners feel like they were being watched all hours of the day. Jeremey Bentham creates the panopticon and it points out “Not only would the inmates be subdued by believing they were under constant supervision, but the superintendent or warden of the institution could also easily classify inmates” (Nicoletta, 372). This concept of watching does have some parallel back to the shakers version of surveillance though they varied in intensity of their role in the lives of those being watched. Prisoners were watched to correct past behaviors if they occurred inside the prison and included punishments for being disobedient.   In conclusion, shaker and prison architecture have similarities in their built formations in terms of basic architecture but in terms of function and interior design, they are complete opposites.

The shakers are a religious group that wanted to create a utopian community on earth for their believers through their formation of principles and laws that dictated the architecture. Through organized and methodical approaches, the ideas of monitoring believers by the elders was to correct the behaviors of sinners. Prisons were vastly contrasting with the intent to keep inmates from ever leaving and under the illusion of twenty-four-seven monitoring to guard against the behaviors that were undesirable in the community. Prisons were formed by no specific group but by many seeking to segregate the insane and criminal from the others in the community at that time.

The interior design of a shaker house is simple and still prevalent in design today. Interior design for prisons does not exist and more influence in this setting comes through the architecture and how it can control the inmates to behave a certain way. The similarities include the idea of being monitored at all hours of the day and separated by sexes. Though these two forms of architecture have common features their overall arching purposes in their communities is completely different. Nicoletta makes valid points in her argument that these two are more closely related but there are too many differences in style that make the view hard to recognize fully. Architecture carries with it many forms of representation which can be interpreted in different ways to create a diverse opinion on the topic. 

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