Prison complex Haren

Innovative design concept leads to village character (Haren, Belgium)

Penitentiary complex designed as a small village center

Small units, lots of greenery and spacious paths and squares create a humane environment.

1 / 5

2 / 5

3 / 5

4 / 5

5 / 5


Prison complex Haren

Human size and scale for both prisoners and employees

EGM architects design the new prison complex in Brussels, part of the municipality of Haren, on behalf of the Cafasso consortium. Construction preparations started last week. The new complex will replace the prisons of Sint-Gillis, Vorst and Berkendael and with the accommodation of 1,190 prisoners, it will become the largest prison in Belgium.

Human living conditions

The long-term policy for detention in Belgium is outlined in a document entitled Masterplan for Detention and Internment in humane conditions. The document, the most recent edition of which dates from 2016, calls for particular attention for the human living conditions in Belgian prisons. Right from a very early stage of the planning for the new complex, it became clear that a prison based on the widely familiar Ducpétiaux concept (star-shaped prison) or the Panopticon model did not reflect this aim.


Innovative design concept

The solution for the Haren Prison Complex is captured in a new design concept that was developed on the basis of EGM’s years of experience in designing penitentiary institutions and (closed) youth care institutions. In earlier projects, the spatial, logistical and security aspects of the assignments were combined with human living environments that received increasing attention. The Haren Prison Complex is designed as an innovative ‘prison village’ with various smaller pleasant-looking buildings that differ in terms of size, shape and materials.


The variety in appearance and scale reflects the layout of an ordinary village. The design deals creatively with the existing irregular contours and height differences of the building site, resulting in a varied landscape and views. Natural greenery, a village scale and recognizable materials contribute to the humane conditions of the prison for both detainees and staff.



‘Public’ space as heart of the village

A public square will be created around the entrance building: the ‘Inkomplein’. The second square, the ‘Campusplein’, is the central square within the walls and connects all buildings. This square is the link between living, working and relaxing within the prison environment. In addition, an attempt has been made to permeate the human character of the complex with the concept of the prison wall. Without detracting from the security requirements and without denying the reality of a prison, the impact is humanized by possibilities of overlook. The relief is used to create transparency, connections and variety.


A sustainable prison

The design is based on a sustainable project in the broadest possible sense of the word: responsible use of space, integration into the environment, social implications, flexibility, ecological and energetic aspects, maintenance of materials. The atmosphere within a detention complex is the result of a search for the balance between sustainability, aesthetics and experience. A pleasant atmosphere brings peace and quiet for both the detainees and the prison staff. In common areas, accent colours and wood are deliberately used, materials that have a positive influence on the mood of the users. The use of colour within the cells is deliberately kept neutral. The complex is also equipped with solar panels, energy-efficient lighting and investments are being made in a Drilling Energy Storage System. In addition, rainwater is recycled for the sanitary facilities and the majority of the buildings meet the passive standard.


Functional characteristics

The size of the prison and the spatial setting lend the project a strong urban design character. About 116,000 m² will be built on the 15-hectare site, which will eventually house 1,190 inmates. The complex will include two custodial units and one prison unit for males, one closed and one open institution for females, a hospital, an observation unit, a psychiatric unit, a medical centre, a sports complex, a work and education studio, and a visitor facility.



The Federal Buildings Authority in Belgium awarded the prison contract to Cafasso on the basis of a Design, Build, Finance & Maintain (DBFM) contract. The Cafasso consortium consists of Denys nv, FCC Construcción sa and Macquarie Capital. EGM architects and Belgian architecture firm B2Ai are teaming up as architects for the Haren Prison Complex.



World Architecture Festival - Winner - Future Projects

Public-Private Partnership Award 2019 - Winner