The New Anti-Panopticon

My friend Lars Hasselblad Torres (who may have the coolest name I know) pointed out a really fascinating project.

It’s “The Intellectuals Circle” — a circular bench designed to encourage “a clear form of verbal communication without visual cues or theatrics between participants.” As it has been a long time since I’ve been a to a meeting with no irksome theatrics, I am intrigued!

I am even more introgued by a comment embedded in some of the design notes. The designers (MIT, natch) see this as a sort of reverse Panopticon. 

I have always been fascinated by Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon. What is it? Here’s a description from an earlier article I wrote:

In 1787, one of the great thinkers of English history, Jeremy Bentham, proposed a new design for a prison. He called the design the Panopticon. The idea was simple: from one point in the center of the building, a single guard could see any inmate at any time. All of the inmates knew this, but could not tell when, or whether, they were being observed. The concept was intended to promote the moral development of the prisoners, as the constant possibility of scrutiny would serve to make them less likely to behave badly. The Panopticon was a leap forward in its day. Designed to replace the infamous Botany Bay, it was among the first prisons to incorporate the idea of rehabilitation rather than punishment. Instead of being seen as beasts, prisoners were now assumed to be able to regulate their own behavior. Bentham’s design would have provided the motivation for them to do so.

What does it mean for soemthing to be the reverse of the Panopticon? The designers: “Instead of using a centralized theme of observation as a means of control, the Intellectuals Circle allows participants to converse freely on the periphery, without direct visual contact with each other. There is no center at all, only 4 ways in which to enter, sit and exit at will.”

The intended effect of the Panipticon is not punitive but moral. It is designed to foster a positive morality and correct a lack of morality. What effect will the Intellectual’s Circle have? Surely it won’t be the converse!

Published by

Brad Rourke

Executive editor of issue guides and program officer at the Kettering Foundation.

One thought on “The New Anti-Panopticon”

  1. Hi all,
    I am a student of architecture and I am quite fascinated to know about the anti panoptican model contradicting Bentham’s original proposition. I think it could be a great challange for the architects to arrive at an anti panoptican modeled design for the corporate offices world wide.
    Architecture is powerful and it should be used as a tool to facilitate the liberation of human creativity than to obstruct it.
    It would be of help if you can forward me some of the links on an anti panoptican model design.

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