Law360 has a very interesting article about the design of courthouses, a task which must balance a number of overlapping and occasionally competing goals:
- Conveying respect for the rule of law and the courthouse as the physical “home of the law” (reminiscent of Chief Justice Taft’s moniker of the Supreme Court building as the “Temple of Justice”);
- Assuring access to justice for court users and observers;
- Providing adequate working space for judges and court staff; and
- Protecting the safety of everyone in the building.
The modern courthouse is simultaneously an office building, a processing station, a public space, a secular temple, a democratic icon, an entertainment complex, and a playing field. Capturing all of those needs in one building is a profound architectural challenge.
Some of the newer courthouses were designed with extra space and wiggle room to accommodate changing needs. I especially like the design of the federal courthouse in Boston (below), notwithstanding its questionable interior artwork. But older courthouses are increasingly bursting at the seams or in need of major retrofitting, and the funding may not be available.
Interested readers should check out the wonderful, and coffee table-worthy, Representing Justice by Judith Resnik and Dennis Curtis, which tracks the history of American courthouses and the evolving goals behind their design.