Our local office of DLR Group Architects has designed a striking new courthouse for Calaveras County in California. Like many local architects, they have a national reputation working on projects around the country. This project received a 2014 Honor Award, by guest jury selection, from the AIA Orlando Chapter.
The design and planning of the new County courthouse was deeply influenced by the natural setting in which it resides. To harmonize with the delicate oak woodlands and sloping topography, the more traditional elements of civic architecture such as symmetry, density, and verticality were replaced with asymmetrical compositions, horizontal expression, and an increased level of transparency. The resulting architecture is a contemporary solution that embraces the functionality of modern courthouse planning in an unconventional setting.
The base of the building references traditional design elements by anchoring the building on the site. Mitigating the extreme grade changes, free flowing and organic but weighted and grounded in its materiality, it becomes the wellspring from which the upper floors emanate. Programmatically, the first floor functions reflect the same ideas. The clerk of court, jury assembly and the court support offices are all housed on the first level. These components are the foundation and support network to the court system. The upper level of the building is ordered, orthogonal, and balanced. Here, the courtrooms are expressed in juxtaposition against the base. Just as the court system provides order and guidance to our changing society, this literal interpretation provides a resolution to the building massing. At the roof line, the courtroom volumes are expressed against a datum of metal which echoes the mountains beyond as they rise above the horizon.
Early client goal setting sessions focused on developing a building that welcomed the public while creating a safe and secure work environment. The existing courthouse had prisoner movement occurring in the same hallways with visitors and staff. The small security measures that were in place detracted from the notion of the equality and fairness of the judicial process. In the new building, these core values manifest themselves via separate circulation systems for the public, staff, and prisoner movement, thus avoiding potentially unsafe interaction. Security measures, while ever present, are balanced with transparency and openness throughout the facility. The intimate scale of the new courthouse allowed the design team to really push the envelope with the use of natural light. All public spaces, courtrooms, chambers, circulation corridors and office areas have some connection to the outdoors and natural light. Courtrooms have borrowed light from roof top clerestories and individual skylights.
The Great Hall, the main organizing interior feature, has a two-story glass curtain wall facade on the north and south elevation with a large central skylight bringing in filtered light from above. Circulation corridors on the upper level are located along the exterior walls which are filled with natural light from translucent glass. The connection to the outdoors is extended in a literal sense with two private balconies that allow the staff to convene at both the first and second level. In all, the level of transparency and connection between inside and out speaks to the client’s goals of balancing security and openness while simultaneously creating a reverential civic space.
A grand stair connects the upper and lower floors as an extension of the procession to the courtrooms. The pedestrian nature of the interior circulation supports principles of sustainability and personal well being.
Daylight into the great hall is bolstered by an aperture in the roof, which provides light from above. This connection between the outdoors and nature was an important design goal that is reflected in both the public and private office areas. Interior materials are a continuation of the exterior material palette. Stone and wood are used to clad the interior surfaces and reinforce the dialogue between inside and out.
Courtrooms receive natural light via a skylight located above the judge’s bench and a clerestory window / light well at the jury box.
Here is a link to the project information on the DLR Group website:
Here is a link to all the 2014 AIA Orlando Design Award winners: