Constructing Courts: Architecture, the Ideology of Judging, and the Public Sphere

Law, Culture & Visual Studies (eds. Richard Sherwin and Anne Wagner, Springer Publishing Company), 2013

Yale Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 514

Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 14-402

31 Pages Posted: 13 Jun 2014 Last revised: 19 Oct 2018

See all articles by Judith Resnik

Judith Resnik

Yale University - Law School

Dennis E. Curtis

Yale University - Law School

Allison Anna Tait

University of Richmond - School of Law

Date Written: Spring 2013

Abstract

In several countries, governments have embarked on major building expansion programs for their judiciaries. The new buildings posit the courtroom as their center and the judge as that room’s pivot. These contemporary projects follow the didactic path laid out in Medieval and Renaissance town halls, which repeatedly deployed symbolism in efforts to shape norms. Dramatic depictions then reminded judges to be loyal subjects of the state. In contrast, modern buildings narrate not only the independence of judges but also the dominion of judges, insulated from the state. The significant allocation of public funds reflects the prestige accorded to courts by governments that dispatch world-renowned architects to design these icons of the state.

The investment in spectacular structures represents a tribute to the judiciary but should also serve as a reminder of courts’ dependency on other branches of government, which authorize budgets and shape jurisdictional authority. A double narrative comes as well from the design choices. The frequent reliance on glass facades is explained as denoting the accessibility and transparency of the law. But courthouse interiors tell another story, in which segregated passageways (“les trois flux”) have become the norm, devoting substantial space and cost to isolating participants from each other. Further, administrative offices consume the largest percentage of the square footage, illuminating a shift away from public adjudication toward alternative dispute resolution and problematizing the emphasis on courtrooms.

The new monumentality reflects but does not frankly acknowledge the challenges to courts from democratic precepts that grant “everyone” entitlements to public hearings before independent jurists. The buildings are reminders of courts’ contributions to the public sphere, while new rules reconfiguring adjudication privilege private conciliation.

Keywords: judges, courts, courthouse design, democracy, France, U.S.

Suggested Citation

Resnik, Judith and Curtis, Dennis E. and Tait, Allison Anna, Constructing Courts: Architecture, the Ideology of Judging, and the Public Sphere (Spring 2013). Law, Culture & Visual Studies (eds. Richard Sherwin and Anne Wagner, Springer Publishing Company), 2013; Yale Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 514; Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 14-402. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2447895 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2447895

Judith Resnik (Contact Author)

Yale University - Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States
203-432-1447 (Phone)
203-432-1719 (Fax)

Dennis E. Curtis

Yale University - Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States
203-432-2427 (Phone)

Allison Anna Tait

University of Richmond - School of Law ( email )

28 Westhampton Way
Richmond, VA 23173
United States

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