From prison to paragon: These beautiful buildings were former jails

Story highlights

  • Former jails have been transformed into into everything from luxury hotels to schools
  • Despite a less than salubrious past, people seem more than happy to take up in these old jail spaces

(CNN)Jails are not the first place people typically look to for design inspiration. For the most part they are brutalist, utilitarian blocks that are built to house row after row of prison cells and which offer altogether dismal living conditions.

But a few disused penitentiaries have had their potential unlocked by redevelopers -- and in these second leases on life, former jails have been transformed into everything from luxury hotels to schools, shopping complexes, or even a film lot.
    One 18th-century 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.
    Meanwhile, the shuttered Arthur Kill Correctional Facility on Staten Island in New York is in the process of becoming a studio for TV and film production in the hopes that celebrities, not convicts, will one day walk its grounds.
    More and more former prison sites are being opened up to redevelopment in the US, thanks in no small part to the government's decision to move away from controversial for-profit prisons. The announcement in August that the US federal government would stop using private operators is expected to force many private facilities to close. That's alongside lower overall incarceration rates, that stem from a rejection of the old 1990's "tough on crime" stance.
    Despite a less than salubrious past, people seem more than happy to take up in these old jail spaces -- perhaps because in many instances, you wouldn't have been in such bad company.
    Visitors to Reading Prison in England, which has been opened to the public for the first time this September as an exhibition space, can see where Oscar Wilde once made his bed. The playwright served out a two-year sentence for "gross indecency" for his relationship with another man.
    Pentridge Prison in Australia guarded some of the nation's most notorious criminals -- including the legendary outlawed 'bushranger' Ned Kelly -- but it's now being re-envisioned as a vibrant residential and commercial hub in Melbourne.
    In the Turkish capital of Istanbul, the Sultanahmet 'Capital City Murder' Jail -- which is now a luxurious Four Seasons Hotel -- had its fifth section reserved for famous personages such as poet Nazim Hikmet and satirist Aziz Nesin. Somewhat foreshadowing its destiny as hotel accommodation, the prison was ironically referred to as "The Hilton".
    Take a look through the gallery above to see creative examples of former prison spaces now rehabilitated.