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The Hit and Miss Architecture of New Courthouses

The Hit and Miss Architecture of New Courthouses

American courthouses are rarely centers of architectural experimentation. In fact, they tend to give us some of the more conservative examples of civic architecture. Municipalities of all shapes and sizes see columns, pediments, and red brick as comforting signs of American justice.

Perceived failures of mid-century style courthouses also seems to have encouraged a conservative backlash since. In ClevelandMinneapolis and Seattle, postmodern classicism won out through the late 20th century into the early 21st for new courthouse projects. 

Many of these facilities resembled bank towers more than civic buildings. The trend has slowed, shifting back to courthouses that spread out more horizontally and contain more engaging public space. But that doesn't mean the newer designs are always better.

Jacksonville's new Duval County courthouse, due to open this year, looks a bit like something an 18th century architect might have dreamed up to be 'futuristic.'  The city's new federal courthouse fairs better in comparison but still falls back on an outdated design language (200 or so years ahead of its county counterpart at least). 

That's not to say it's better everywhere else. OMA has unveiled its latest drift into dystopia with their design for a new courthouse in Paris — in many ways it's the kind of design that reaffirms our more conservative preferences Stateside. 

We looked around for some of the more risk-taking designs in contemporary courthouse architecture, hoping to see what new styles might be emerging (for better or worse). Below, 10 we thought were worth sharing:

Mark Byrnes is an associate editor at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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