In the past, Belgium has played a pioneering role in prison design. Despite the growing interest in the history of prison architecture abroad since the 1970's, the study of Belgian prisons froam an architectural-historical perspective remains a blind spot in the scientific literature. This study, focusing on the period from 1830 till 1919, will fill out this gap and contribute to the knowledge and appreciation of this typology, with attention to the heritage value of this particular architecture.
To this end we will focus on three main themes: prison architecture from the perspective of the criminologist/jurist, from the position of the architect and lastly the building in situ. First is to assess the evolution of penological concepts of penitentiary reformers like Edouard Ducpétiaux (1804-1868) and Adolphe Prins (1845-1919), and to what extent they were given expression in prison design. Secondly, the vision of the main Belgian prison architects (for example J.J. Dumont and F. Derré and the changing architectural-theoratical discourse on prison design will be examined. Finally, we will focus on the built prisons in situ.
Lastly, there is an important international dimension that transcends these themes. Some Belgian experiments were imitated abroad, while on the other hand Belgian architects and thinkers were influenced by international developments. The findings on the Belgian situation will therefore be discussed in an international perspective.