A tour of emerging trends in courthouse design.

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  The city's new federal courthouse fairs better in comparison but still falls back on an outdated design language (200 or so years ahead of its county counterpart at least).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:

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. a rendering of the moon village with a view of Earth
    Design

    Designing the First Full-Time Human Habitat on the Moon

    SOM, in partnership with the ESA and MIT, wants to accommodate research and maybe even tourism on the moon.

  2. Equity

    The Hidden Horror of Hudson Yards Is How It Was Financed

    Manhattan’s new luxury mega-project was partially bankrolled by an investor visa program called EB-5, which was meant to help poverty-stricken areas.

  3. Life

    Who’s Really Buying Property in San Francisco?

    A lot of software developers, according to an unprecedented new analysis.

  4. Transportation

    Electric Scooters Aren’t a Transportation Revolution Yet

    New data show a staggering rise in shared dockless e-scooter use nationwide. But commuting habits have seen little change since the dawn of micromobility.

  5. a photo of a Metro PCS store in Washington, D.C.
    Equity

    What D.C.’s Go-Go Showdown Reveals About Gentrification

    A neighborhood debate over music swiftly became something bigger, and louder: a cry for self-determination from a community that is struggling to be heard.