This civic building containing 10 courtrooms, a law library, and a child care center, is at the heart of a historic industrial city. The building faces the historic Canal Park, opening up a window to views of the brick mill buildings beyond. The palette of dominant materials – brick, stone and steel – unifies the traditions of both. Intended to spur redevelopment of the downtown area, the building has a modernist civic sensibility within the framework of an historically significant downtown.
The center brings together District, Housing, Probate and Juvenile Courts under one roof. This programmatic unification in turn provides for shared services, such as child care and family counseling. The most active functions within the building are located on the ground floor – allowing the upper levels to serve a reduced volume of visitors and to have a quieter and appropriately judicial setting. The majority of the courtrooms are located on the upper level, which ensures that every courtroom have top and/or side light. Separate circulation and entries are provided for the public, the staff and the judiciary. Detainee areas are located below grade with secure access to courtroom holding areas.
The clarity of the design approach is seen in the way the building connects the northern civic precinct to the southern industrial mill district. The simplicity of the volume unites both traditions, while the detailing of the building draws together the massiveness of the mill buildings with the more refined qualities of civic architecture. The clarity of the building’s interior organization is evident at the moment of entry; a view of the entire building lobby is visible immediately.
Symbolic elements of the historic courthouse vocabulary are creatively reinvented to communicate the building’s civic nature. On the courthouse’s south side, a monumental porch of brick piers orients pedestrians and passers-by to the courthouses entry at the southeast corner. This is joined by a smaller porch of similar character at the west: at the junction of the porches, the entry itself it marked by a vertical glass and steel volume which functions as a beacon at night and a bay window by day to celebrate the building entry.