Legal Architecture: Justice, Due Process and the Place of Law
The Court and the Law can be said to accumulate, whereby present cases and the specific terms of the events they observe contribute to a collective record.
The Court, in this facet of its civic programme, becomes a Library. Hence the courtroom and the trials that inhabit it can be conceived of as present Law, drawing reference from past Law in order to inscribe future Law. Perhaps, instead, it is as a Library, on which legal verdicts are predicated, that the Court truly consists. The Library, in its negation of a centre and its tendency towards expansion, maybe more than any other is the spatial model most prevalent in contemporary court architecture.
In , David Chipperfield architects completed the construction of a pivotal example of this new breed of legal architecture — the City of Justice in Barcelona — a complex of ten buildings that collectively form a sort of legal campus , marking a definitive shift in the evolution of the Court. In so doing, the project creates paradoxical notions of territory. As an institution, it serves the two municipalities on whose borders it is situated, but every element of its construction, scale, expression and orientation implies the declaration of a new city: a city outside.
The inference is that the dialogue is not with the immediacy or physicality of the context, but with something else. Evans observes:.
According to early practitioners, the Law was present at the Creation, but in being transcendent, it cannot be fully constituted in the world. The Law expands, perhaps infinitely, and the structure of its practice recognises, as essential, the notion of precedent, with the Court serving as the scene of its ritual revelation [ 1 ].
In many courtrooms we may see the case records. These shelves of legal texts provide the transcripts of past cases, containing the exchanges of the trial to which they refer, and the verdict thereby reached. Beyond the advocates and judges through whom the Law is translated, these books are the reference of ultimate authority, from which our collective social history re-emerges to inform judicial practice in specific instances of the present. In turn, however, this condition then presents a problem for the spatialisation of the Court on both a practical and representational level.
The built volume of the courtroom is required somehow to be able to adapt to the vast and expanding library upon which it is built, and, therefore, address the questions of representation of an emerging spatial model. It is at this point that we can observe another deviation from the prior analogy between the Church and the spatialisation of legal practices. As articulated by Evans when discussing the Inns of Court in London:.
The Law is to be continuously revealed. This emphasis on precedent subverts conventional connotations of the figure of the judge as the arbiter of the Court, as the point of reference, in favour of a model of deferral.
29 Jun – 14 Sep 2020
In this way, the Court becomes a space without direction , with no axial relations and no notion of having a centre. The complexity and reach of Law — and its increasingly convoluted legal process, coupled with the modern subscription to the idea of Law as a wholly democratic and impartial act — therefore causes problems for formerly held conditions about the building type , such as in the power relations between judge and judged, the drama of the trial, assertions of state or sovereign authority. These formal aspects of the Court are now being absorbed within an expanding bureaucratic body, and as a result, the expression of legal architecture becomes ever more confused and withdrawn.
The notion of differentiation of building types, going back to Montesquieu and Le Roy, which attempted to impose clarity on the ancient archetype, is now in reverse. Within the courtroom, the steps of the Docks c mediate between the court and the holding cells of the basement. Each of the spatial analogies that were drawn in previous chapters between the Court and other civic archetypes — Parliament, Church, Theatre, and Library — have helped to understand the complexities in a definition of this building type , and of its relationship to the space of the city.
The Court also possesses, however, within its jurisdiction , the unique civic purpose for defining society through its other. Central to the role of the courtroom is its programme for extracting individuals from the public body, and placing them, if guilty, in a space that is physically and symbolically outside of the social realm. It is in this latter act that the type is defined by perhaps its most profound identification of two kinds of space: society and not-society. So much so, that its name now refers not merely to the institution or its building, but to the broader semantic space of legal discourse.
If the extracted individual is the one who is most truly subject to the Law — held between society and its other — it is surely then the Docks that represent the most acutely loaded moment within the place of Law. The last public execution in London, back in , marked a momentous shift in the punitive nature of British legal practice towards a deeper, more fundamental revision of the spatialisation of the Court.
Book Review: Legal Architecture: Justice, Due Process and the Place of Law
Of the theorists to write about the phenomenon of legal practice, it is perhaps Foucault who most explicitly articulated the social — and by virtue, spatial — implications of this evolution in punishment. It signified a transition from what he termed the spectacle of the scaffold [ 6 ], to the emergence of the Prison as a typology, and the withdrawal of the accused from the public realm. The public nature of executions could be argued to have been their very purpose. As not just a means of punishment of the convicted individual, through the brutal removal of that individual from society, Foucault pointed out that the performance of the execution under the public gaze was primarily to declare how citizens should act:.
If found guilty, the execution of the accused removed them from this model entirely — there was no other , besides death. Here it is pertinent to note that the abolition of public executions was not, as might be expected, due to changing attitudes to violent punishment by the state. Rather, the public spaces of execution in Britain had become increasingly prone to appropriation by protesters who sympathised with the accused, in defiance of sovereign authority [ 17 ].
Foucault explained this condition within the theory of heterotopia :. But these heterotopias of crisis are disappearing today and are being replaced, I believe, by what we might call heterotopias of deviation: those in which individuals whose behaviour is deviant in relation to the required mean or norm are placed. The recognition of these two poles — the space of society and its other — positions the courtroom, and more specifically the moments of its trial, as a space of heightened criticality. What we call a trial can therefore be interpreted as a rite of passage whose purpose is to take the suspect individual, previously joined to the social body, and to separate him or her in custodial space.
On the day of the trial, they are then escorted through a tightly controlled and segregated internal circulation system directly to the docks at the side of the particular courtroom. There the accused are placed upon a raised podium from which they are to observe and be observed through the proceedings of the second degree of the model, the Court, thus standing within the portal between society and extraction from that society. If found not guilty, and acquitted of their charges, they are led with supervision back into the public realm for release.
Distinct patterns of circulation ensure minimal contact between the various agents in the trial — accused, defence, prosecution, jury and judges — until they all meet within the courtroom, and only then under highly controlled conditions. Besides implicit concerns of security, it seems reasonable to extrapolate that this segregation is more fundamental for the separate identification of these agents, and the distinct roles they will play in the contract of the trial.
Beyond the specific instance of the trial in which they are participating, they are representative of the very premise of Law as a civic programme. The defence and prosecution teams are within society, the jury and judges must be asked to withdraw temporarily from society in order to reflect impartially upon it, and the accused is most definitively outside society for the duration of their custody.
Segregation of these agents is, therefore, integral to the clarity of this symbolic construct. The Docks in this regard an extension of the Prison towards which they inflect. Beyond these spatial analogies between the Docks and the Prison, the materiality and tectonics of the Docks as an item of furniture provide even stronger assertions to this connection. But perhaps more than this, what the spatial conditions of the Court attain are those of the Prison as an immaculately regimented scenario.
It is perhaps in this final point that the identifying condition of the Court as a building type resides. In its extraction of individuals from society, in its definition of the Laws from which they have deviated, and its creation of the conditions of the Prison as the other space, the Court defines what is thereby left by elimination: the space of society itself, and all that is proper to it. A criminal conviction clearly has immediate and acute implications for the accused, but its greater social purpose is to embed itself in the collective memory of the space from which they have been removed, that of the city around Fig.
The place of Law, approached as it has been in this essay through significant exemplars drawn from its extensive history, has always been revealed through spatial analogies with other definitive civic types in different eras. Each instance of its formalisation within architecture has been driven by an emphasis of one or more such analogies, which have in turn informed a collective social perception about the Law that is, paradoxically, both deeply identifiable and inherently contradictory.
We are familiar with its iconography and apparatus the robes, wigs, sword and scales, the grandeur of porticos and lofty elevations , and with the tropes of its cultural representations courtroom sketches, dramatization in film and television productions, the hurried vignettes and flash photography of the press on the pavement. Yet beneath the rhetoric and apparent immediacy of these motifs is an architectural form more nuanced and more fundamentally influential as an agent in our perception of the Law, and which is conveyed by complex conceptualisations in space.
Law in Ancient Athens therefore inculcated the public body, being practiced as it was as much in the urban territory between courts as it was with any sense of interiority, and in doing so it established a political condition akin to a bi-cameral Parliament. In the Roman Forum, certainly in the later stages of that empire, the Court became enmeshed with emerging religious doctrines and associated hierarchies, which instilled in the type a centrality of power relations — in other words, a shared axiological premise between Court and Church that was demonstrated through their mutual appropriation of space.
Nearly two millennia later, however, the Court designed by Mies van der Rohe in Chicago represented a modern condition that was a marked departure from antiquity: now there was an emphasis on the insularity of the courtroom, and its absolute withdrawal from context. The Court had become instead a space of abstraction, marked by its designation of an isolated territory for the rituals of the trial — and with an aspiration towards autonomy that was analogous to the venue of the Theatre.
Here we witness the definition of society by elimination, the extraction of those deemed worthy of exclusion, and the inscription of the terms of their exclusion on the collective memory of the public body. In analysing the place of Law, this essay has sought to disassemble and thereby abstract the genealogical features of the Court as a building type , by scrutinising some architectural instances of its materialisation. The complexity, variety and incompatibility of these features within the type speaks of a concern prevalent in architectural theory, that of classification.
The two terms are frequently used interchangeably, leading to a fundamental confusion in the classification of buildings. The common function or programme that exists among a collection of buildings, best defined as the genre , would broadly group Law Courts — pan-historically and pan-culturally — as all belonging to one mode of classification. But what this essay reveals is something deeper, and more interesting.
If we accept that the buildings analysed can be grouped in this manner, then the essay also attempts to explore a mode of classification that bares a much deeper investigation, which is that of building type. As a concept it is both more complex and more profound. The differences between each of the case studies in terms of their configuration of space suggests that they are not actually of one single type , but rather of a series of fundamental types that have an indeterminate and interwoven relationship with one another.
The spatial analogies drawn between the Court in each case study and another institutional genre — Parliament, Church, Theatre, and Library — is something that challenges the conventional terms of typological classification. Far from being a potentially superficial concern about terminology, or an attempt to devise arbitrary groupings of buildings, the question of classification approached in this essay suggests a need for further exploration into the role that built spaces play in the practice and meaning of different social programmes. And in this regard, maybe the best way to understand the social and cultural composition of cities is through the careful examination of our deeper building types , such as represented in this essay by the Court.
Evans, D Hanson, J The Architecture of Justice: Iconography and space configuration in the English law court building. Goodsell, CT University Press of Kansas. Simon, J Architecture and Justice: Judicial meanings in the public realm. Foucault, M Miskowiec, Jay trans. Lane, Allen trans.
Linda Mulchay: Legal Architecture: Justice, Due Process and the Place of Law | SpringerLink
Penguin Books. Haldar, P In and out of court: On topographies of law and the architecture of court buildings. Jacoby, S Typal and typological reasoning: A diagrammatic practice of architecture. Baron de Montesquieu, C The Spirit of the Laws, Available at www.
Gagliardi, L The Encyclopedia of Ancient History. Boegehold et al. The Lawcourts at Athens: Sites, equipment, procedure and testimonia. American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Dumser, EA The Architecture of Maxentius: A study in architectural design and urban planning in early fourth-century Rome. University of Pennsylvania Press.
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