The MCC: Chicago’s (99% Invisible) Jailhouse Skyscraper

 The Metropolitan Correctional Center, or MCC, is a federal jail in the middle of downtown Chicago.  When the brilliant Roman Mars invited me to collaborate on a Chicago-architecture episode of his world-rocking show about design, 99 Percent Invisible, this was the building I wanted to feature.  (I’ll explain why below, but first, have a look.)

The Metropolitan Correctional Center

First, did I mention that it’s a jail in the middle of downtown Chicago?

Also, you might have noticed, it’s freaky-looking:  A skinny triangular skyscraper, with walls that look like old-time computer punch-cards.   Why on earth does a jail look so weird?

And: it can be strangely invisible.  I used to get on the el about a block away from this building, and I never looked at it.  How does that happen?

Turns out the architect, Harry Weese, was a pragmatic visionary– his best-known project is the DC Metro– and all the unusual features addressed practical problems:

The triangular shape created good sight-lines for guards, and the narrow windows made escape difficult even without having bars.  They’re also beveled out, to funnel in more daylight.  And the skyscraper design created more built-in security: No inmates stay below the 10th floor, and the elevator itself functions as a pair of securely locked doors.

Weese also paid a lot of attention to how inmates would experience the building, and I got curious about what it looks like inside today.  Turns out:  Very different from what Weese intended.

You can download the story (or grab the player to embed it in your own site) here.

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One response to “The MCC: Chicago’s (99% Invisible) Jailhouse Skyscraper

  1. I have been there. It is a very strange place to be. It offers the normal horrors of prison, but strangely it is very homie. It strange but when I went into my cell I was extremely comfortable

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