- Project plans
- Project activities
- Legislation and standards
- Industry context
Last edited 24 Dec 2017
The Panopticon is an architectural concept design for institutional buildings, most commonly associated with prisons. It was developed by the utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham in the late-18th century as a building that would serve as a system of control. The name was derived from the figure in Greek mythology, Panoptes, who was a giant with a hundred eyes.
The form of the panopticon was based around the idea that all the inhabitants (or inmates) of an institution could be monitored by a single central figure (or guard) at all times. While it is impossible for the single figure to observe everyone at once, the idea was that since those under surveillance would not know when they were being observed, they would be incentivised to act as though they were always being observed.
In terms of architecture, Bentham’s drawings proposed a circular structure with individual cells arranged along the external wall. These would face inwards towards a central rotunda or ‘inspection house’ from which the guard would be able to observe all the inmates.
Bentham conceived the panopticon as a suitable concept, not just for prisons, but for buildings such as schools, hospitals, asylums, and so on. Although no true panopticon was ever constructed, the radial concept was very influential on building designers, particularly 19th century prisons (e.g. HM Wandsworth, HM Strangeways, UK). Perhaps the closest example is the Presidio Modelo in Cuba which is now a museum.
 Find out more
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
Featured articles and news
More than just aesthetic and historic values and meanings.
An exciting and novel collaboration between the RIBA and the SPAB.
Republic of Ireland updates to planning and development.
The different types of pile foundation.
Achieving a net-zero carbon UK by 2050.
Responding to an invitation to tender.
Statutory instruments laid in Parliament to amend the Climate Change Act.
How will we pay for infrastructure post-Brexit after EIB has gone?
What can we look forward to in the next few decades?
How they work and why they have been so successful.
Weather louvres can combat the effects of climate change.