Prominent, Enduring, and Memorable Courts Facilities
Over $1 billionworking with several agencies and departments
Fentress Architects is guided by the humanistic ideals that a building must work well for its users and speak to its culture and community. Designing to context is the act of creating structures that love the ground on which they stand. It is also expressive of community values and the nature of the work to be performed inside. Courthouses must physically exude, reinforce, and bolster the systems of justice they shelter.
Our team is devoted to creating buildings that thoughtfully integrate with the environment in a way that contributes to the community’s sense of place. This optimism and sense of responsibility is always present.
– Brian H. Chaffee, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C
Over the past 30 years, Fentress Architects has designed more than 250 courtrooms for all levels of the courts system—federal, state, and municipal—and a variety of court types that include district and circuit courts, state supreme courts, courts of appeals, juvenile and family courts, and other specialty courts. Litigants, judicial personnel, jury members, and the general public experience the remarkable accessibility, efficiency, enterprise, stability, and dignity that are characteristic of Fentress Architects-designed courts, which have garnered over 30 awards and recognitions including:
- Al Farwania & Al-Jahra Courts, Larimer County Justice Center, Loveland Police and Courts Building, Norfolk County Courts Complex, and Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center inclusion in Volume 3: Retrospective of Courthouse Design 2001-2010 (National Center for State Courts, 2010)
- Rush Hudson Limbaugh Sr. Federal Courthouse, First Place, Design Competition, 2003
Fentress Architects is highly skilled at taking courts buildings from concept through completion. While each project has its own unique set of requirements and extenuating circumstances, we have found there are some near universal drivers: establish a sense of place; meet present and future community needs and ensure occupant safety and security; create efficient, accessible and dignified chambers, circulation systems, and offices that are also sustainably designed; and—particularly within democratic societies—aid accountability.
[Yolo County Courthouse] will be here for generations as a testament to what Yolo County values. It is a manifestation of how much we value justice in this community.
– Kathleen White, former Presiding Judge and chair of the Design Committee for the Yolo Courthouse
Steward of Community Values
Courthouses must capture and reflect the shared strengths of a community. By doing so, they reinforce constituent pride and respect in the judicial system. For example, a limestone wall rising above the main entry to Johnson County’s new Courthouse, which is slated to become Olathe’s tallest building upon completion in 2020, serves to intuitively direct visitors. Limestone is also a native material that is emblematic of the local geography. Similarly, the two-toned exterior precast of Jefferson County’s Government Center is intended to blend with the nearby foothills of the Rocky Mountains. At the same time, the building’s form is inspired by the county’s namesake, particularly Thomas Jefferson’s rotunda on the University of Virginia campus. In addition to numerous projects throughout the United States, Fentress Architects has worked on courts abroad including the Al Farwania & Al-Jahra Courts in Kuwait City, which while demonstrative of a different judicial system is also representative of jurisprudence. Highly efficient spatial relationships coupled with the implementation of cutting-edge technology and reinterpreted traditional Kuwaiti architectural elements led this project to serve as the prototype for all subsequent Kuwaiti courthouses.
I have always been impressed with the professional respect you have given [the Jefferson County Government Center]… Now that your work is substantially completed, your work is there to be seen and admired… Your efforts will benefit this county for the next fifty years.
– Gasper F. Perricone, former Chief Judge, First Judicial District Court
Secure, Accessible, and Modern
In addition to establishing a sense of place, courthouses must also serve the community: ensure occupant and visitor safety and security, as well as be functionally adequate, technologically sufficient, and inherently accessible. Safety and security includes designing for the mitigation of blast and other human threats as well as natural disasters such as earthquakes, tornados, and tsunamis. For St. Louis County, Fentress Architects designed a six-story expansion and renovation of the Circuit Court in order to accommodate the relocation of the Family Court, both of which had been suffering from a chronic lack of space and compromised building and security systems for decades. Likewise, both the new 24-courtroom Norfolk Courts Complex and new 13-courtroom East County Hall of Justice were the direct results of a need to replace unsafe, outdated, and scattered facilities. The Norfolk complex offers separate circulation systems, secure parking, and direct prisoner access to the existing jail. Likewise, East County introduced space for jury services, court clerk and operations, information technology, in-custody holding, and separate circulation for public, staff, and in-custody defendants.
Democracy can, and arguably should, be expressed in the symbolic and functional attributes of courts buildings. Larimer County Justice Center is elegant without being ostentatious; the courtrooms are efficient, accessible, and dignified. The 28-courtroom Johnson County Courthouse in Olathe, Kansas, will accommodate courtroom needs over the next 75 years with the help of flexible infrastructure that allows for future reconfiguration of courtrooms and office space while also reducing overall energy use by 30 percent. Similarly, the three-courtroom Rush Hudson Limbaugh Sr. Federal Courthouse was designed to accommodate up to four judges’ chambers and a future fourth courtroom. In addition to its modern yet timeless interiors, the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center unifies and reinforces Denver’s Civic Center with a granite-clad Neoclassical exterior, a pedestrian walkway connecting the library and state capitol, and a 4,000-square-foot green roof, which helped the building earn LEED Gold certification from the United States Green Building Council.
If my court were being designed today, it would likely follow the lead of the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center which uses a grand glass façade… and a large atrium to convey transparency and invite the public inside.
– U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor
Civic design has its paradoxes: security with openness, solidity with transparency, strength with humaneness. The entry hall at Yolo County Courthouse features blast-resistant, seismic-rated window walls that protect as well as visually and symbolically connect building occupants with the world at large. The Norfolk County Courts Complex anchors a landscaped urban civic plaza that endeavors to connect city employees with local citizens in a space that is both secure and accessible. As the main floor tenant of the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center, the Supreme Court Law Library and Colorado Judicial Learning Center provide education about, and connect visitors and the community with, the building’s other tenants: the State Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and the other judicial and legal agencies.
Learn more about our courts capabilities, contact:
Brian H. Chaffee FAIA, LEED AP BD+C
12 Selected projects
Larimer County Justice Center
St. Louis County Justice Center /Juvenile Detention Expansion and Renovation
Fred D. Thompson U.S. Courthouse and Federal Building
Al-Farwania & Al-Jahra Court Complex
Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center
Huntsville Federal Courthouse
Norfolk Courts Complex
Yolo County Courthouse
East County Hall of Justice
Jefferson County Government Center
Johnson County Courthouse
Rush Hudson Limbaugh Sr. U.S. Courthouse