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1999: Modern Courthouse Design in Europe

Paul Warner, the 1999 recipient of the Booth Fellowship, studied several recently-built courthouses in Europe. Involved in the preliminary design phase of a large municipal court complex in Detroit, Paul used the Booth Fellowship as an opportunity to further his understanding of court design issues. Because the federal government is also in the midst of a massive courthouse building program, the question of what makes a good environment for the upholding of justice is particularly germane.

Paul raised a number of questions: How does the courthouse reflect the image of justice using the modern language? Should courthouses embody the ambiguity of the modern justice system or should they convey a sense of clarity and openness for which justice strives? Can a modern design evoke the necessary images of dignity, justice and equality to create a building that transcends the pragmatic needs of the courts? How can a building that houses an agency that is by nature resistant to change offer operational flexibility while maintaining the courts image
of permanence?

The French government is in the midst of a similar building program, and these questions have been at the forefront of the French debate over the design of courts. Two buildings in France on which Paul chose to focus were Richard Roger's Law Courts in Bordeaux and Jourda & Perraudin's Law Courts in Melun (pictured left). Bordeaux's use of an open organization where the process of justice is on display to the public contrasts to Melun's traditional model of an organization around a central light well. Despite very different structures, the execution of both is decidedly modern.

Paul also studied two other buildings in depth. Roger's European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg demonstrates that a court building can be designed to be naturally ventilated and highly energy efficient. And the Supreme Court of Iceland by Studio Grande (pictured left) demonstrates a sensitive and appropriate use of materials in constructing a house for justice.

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