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ESP to Host New York Times Architecture Critic Michael Kimmelman

“Questioning the Ethics of Prison Architecture:” Eastern State Penitentiary and The Carpenters’ Company to Host New York Times Architecture Critic Michael Kimmelman

August 30, 2022

As a part of Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site’s ongoing Searchlight Series, New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman will lead a conversation addressing the ongoing debate about the ethics of prison architecture. This free event will take place Tuesday, November 15, 6:00 p.m. at Eastern State Penitentiary, a prison that is itself among the most influential examples of prison architecture in the world. Reservations are strongly recommended.

The current architectural controversy began in 2015, when an organization called Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility petitioned the American Institute of Architects. The petition requested a formal statement from A.I.A. censuring architects who designed death chambers and solitary confinement cells in prisons. This petition was rejected, but the conversation about the ethics of designing these buildings continues today.

The New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman has weighed in on the controversy in several widely-read stories in The Times. His discussion at Eastern State will focus on the moral boundaries of architecture, how these were applied historically at institutions like Eastern State Penitentiary, and how they are still impacting the design of our prison systems today.

Michael Kimmelman is a two-time Pulitzer finalist, the architecture critic for The New York Times, and the author of two novels. Much of his writing has focused on the ethics of prison architecture and has called into question the continued use of solitary confinement and the death penalty in the United States. His forthcoming book The Intimate City will debut this November.

Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site’s Searchlight Series of events addresses issues in contemporary corrections. The Searchlight Series discussions are free and open to the public.

This event is presented by Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site in partnership with The Carpenters’ Company.

Event Details:

The Searchlight Series: Questioning the Ethics of Prison Architecture with Michael Kimmelman
Tuesday, November 15, 2022
6:00 – 7:15 p.m.: Discussion and Q&A
7:15 – 8:00 p.m.: Reception. Complimentary drinks and light fare.
Eastern State Penitentiary, 2027 Fairmount Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19130
Tickets are free, but seating is limited. Reservations are strongly recommended, and can be made online at

About Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site:
Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site interprets the legacy of American criminal justice reform, from the nation’s founding through to the present day, within the long-abandoned cellblocks of the nation’s most historic prison.

Eastern State Penitentiary was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world, but stands today in ruin, a haunting world of crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers. Known for its grand architecture and strict discipline, this was the world's first true "penitentiary," a prison designed to inspire penitence, or true regret, in the hearts of prisoners. Its vaulted, sky-lit cells held approximately 80,000 men and women during its 142 years of operation, including bank robber "Slick Willie" Sutton and “Scarface” Al Capone.

Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site is open for tours year-round. Admission includes “The Voices of Eastern State" Audio Tour, narrated by actor Steve Buscemi; award-winning exhibits; and a critically acclaimed series of artist installations.

In recent years, Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site has been awarded the prestigious Excellence in Exhibitions award by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), the nation’s highest award in exhibition development and design, for its exhibit Prisons Today: Questions in the Age of Mass Incarceration, as well as the Institutional Award for Special Achievement from the Pennsylvania Federation of Museums and the Trustee Emeritus Award for Stewardship from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The Returning Citizens Tour Guide Project, which hires people who were formerly incarcerated to lead tours of the historic site, has won the EdCom Award for Innovation in Museum Education by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) and has been featured internationally by such networks as the BBC and others.

For more information, visit

About The Carpenters’ Company:
Founded in 1724, The Carpenters’ Company of the City and County of Philadelphia is the oldest extant craft guild and professional association in the United States. The Company preserves and interprets Carpenters’ Hall, a National Historic Landmark built between 1770 and 1774 and a showplace for 18th-century architectural design and building techniques. It has been a learning community for professionals in Philadelphia’s built environment for 296 years, including running the nation’s first architecture school in the early 1820s. The Carpenters’ Company today has a membership of 190 leaders drawn from the region’s major architectural, structural engineering and construction-management firms.

For more information, visit


2017 American Aliance of Museums Excellence in Exhibitions Overall Winner