By precedent, the American justice system manifests itself in the built environment as a symbol of power and authority. This representation seems to contradict ideals inherent in a democratic collective: the justice system is in place to protect society and therefore should be open to them. For a democracy to be productive, representation of the collective is paramount. Our vision of a courthouse is one of openness in government, including the justice system. Openness and accessibility in such a building encourage community involvement to engage our democratic system as well as provide a place for people to gather for discussion, collaboration, or protest. Architecturally, this is emphasized through a sense of transparency and a form that encourages the community to enter and have a purpose to stay.
We began by examining the hierarchy in the traditional courtroom arrangement. We wanted to break down the idea of “the State v. the Defendant” and arrange a space that suggests a community resolution rather than government judgment. To accomplish this we arranged the space in the round to encourage a discussion of the accused by a jury of individuals, rather than a mob of people to execute justice.
Civil space is territory of the individual and the collective population. There is an inherent tension when considering the needs of an individual relative to the collective needs. This tension informs design as a composite of ideals: those of the state collective as well as those it serves. Formally expressing this tension is the dynamic relationship of the city grid, the source of people, to the boundaries of this moderating institution. Latitudinal flows of people cut into the site making a place for casual use by any pedestrian, while the building’s heart and skin are thrust forth enclosing the void. This physical presence recognizes functionality of the collective and provides shelter. Forming this fundamental thrust are the courtrooms, places of action and a beacon to the collective. This intermediate space between borders becomes neither that of the individual or the collective, but a place for their integration.
Destination visibility and clarity of route is important to individual interaction. Involvement in the proceedings is encouraged both physically and visually through treatment of circulation as a procession to the courtrooms. Path emphasizes views both of the landscape and of the user’s destination through the angle of the stairs. Building accessibility is greatly improved by locating a security checkpoint to the third level serving the courtroom floors. Such ease of access allows users to participate and use this civic building freely as well as allowing the ground level to become very open when appropriate. Here, the meeting hall is equipped with walls that open directly to the outside, designed to create a variable space that can expand to the outside during community events. In this way the courthouse becomes less of a sacred untouchable building and more of a community resolution center.
Status: School Project
Location: Portland, OR, US