Former Prisons Are Being Re-purposed

Check out how old prisons are being used to create hotels.

By Jeff Vasishta October 11, 2016
Four Seasons Hotel Sultanahmet in Istanbul. Photo courtesy of

The communal showers might be gone and the menu upgraded from slop to pop but there’s no mistaking this swanky hotel’s former incarnation: A prison. Call it cell block chic. Rather than demolish Australia’s Pentridge Prison in Melbourne, Australia a private buyer took over the site and has transformed it into what looks like a swanky prison themed W Hotel. The Glamour Slammer. It’s part of a growing trend. Former penitentiaries around the world are getting second chances as developers unlock their potential, releasing imaginative designs to repurpose jails as hotels, schools, shopping malls and even a film lot.

Related: Will Communal Living Make Another Comeback In NYC?

Though they used to house row upon row of criminals in faceless, depressing surroundings, the actual structure of many prisons make great template for any number of new uses, without the expense of a demolition and a complete rebuild. Improve instead of remove has been the ethos when revamping the jailhouse rock used to construct these often huge complexes.

The US government’s move away from the controversial private prison industry is causing many compounds to shutter their doors. Arthur Kill Correctional Facility on Staten Island in New York is in the process of becoming a studio for TV and film production. Shawshank Redemption Pt. 2, anyone?

The French have gone from time served to time signatures. A former jail in Louviers, France, has been reincarnated as an elegant music academy. Its award-winning design features a modern glass orchestra hall juxtaposed above its classical stone facade.

Louviers Music School. Photo courtesy of Opus 5.

If your image of a Turkish prison is indelibly linked to the movie Midnight Express, think again. In a case of confinement to refinement, the Four Seasons are now the long-term residents of the Sagmalcilar Prison in Istanbul, Turkey, renamed the Sultanahmet Four Seasons. It was once used to detain intellectuals whose angry written words fell foul of the powers that be. Now silky prose is all that can be used to describe the transformation. It’s the only prison where you’ll be praying for an extended sentence.

Four Seasons Hotel Sultanahmet in Istanbul. Photo courtesy of

Oppression to expression. That’s the narrative behind Freedom Park in Lagos, Nigeria. The former site of the notorious Broad Street Prison has been reimagined by architect Theo Lawson to create a chilled out contemplative oasis from the hustle of city. The park includes a museum, art gallery, ponds, fountains, shops and restaurants. There’s also an amphitheater that stages live music, spoken word, drama and dance.

Photo courtesy of

Skylights and zinc panels fitted with translucent “windows” could describe a new eco-friendly condo tower in Manhattan. It also describes the airy cultural center—Centro Cultural Antigua Carcel, Le Crac—in Palencia, Spain, once Palencia Provincial Prison, which plays off the 19th century building’s Neo-Mudejar style.

Fancy a night behind bars? And we don’t mean the kind that serve beer? Guests at Hostel Celica, in Slovenia, get the chance to sleep behind bars thanks to a creative facelift that’s left the former Yugosalvian military prison with 20 artistically redesigned jail cells—each with its own distinct flavor.

Hotel Celica. Photo courtesy of



Jeff Vasishta



Jeff is a writer, husband and father but not necessarily in that order. As a music journalist he counts Prince, Beyonce and Quincy Jones amongst those he’s interviewed. He's also owned and flipped homes in Brooklyn, NJ, CT and PA.

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