With Jay Street Architect
Perkins Eastman Designed the New 32-Story, 1.1 Million-Square Foot Courthouse for the Brooklyn Supreme and Family Courts located at MetroTech Center in downtown Brooklyn. The firm’s specialties include healthcare, housing, laboratories, public sector, senior living and corporate interiors.
Q: Is it more difficult to design and build courthouses than other facilities?
A: Courthouses are very complex, probably more complex than other [types of buildings]. Residential buildings are fairly simple. Office buildings are fairly simple, too.
Jonathan N. Stark, AIA
Principal and Director Perkins Eastman
PHOTO: TED ERMANSONS
But a building like this is extremely complicated, mostly because of security. There are different entrances for judges, visitors and prisoners. The Supreme Court, Family Court and the commercial office space each had its own specific needs so we made each one accessible only from the ground floor and each has its own circulation system, lobby and entrance. The planning of it is complex, however, it has to look simple. A person should be able to walk in and know where to go. This building is very efficient. There’s no wasted space.
It also is designed for durability. All of the floors are terrazzo (stone chips set in mortar and polished, resembling marble) in the courtrooms. Normally we use rubber, tile or carpet.
Q: Were there any particular challenges in building this courthouse?
A: The shape and bulk of the building were set and we had to fit 80 courtrooms in it.
Q: Would you say designing courthouses is your specialty?
A: Yes, personally, building courthouses is one of my specialties. I’d have to say that it is one that I have the greatest interaction with and knowledge about. Building courthouses is fascinating.
Q: You mentioned security being a primary concern for modern courthouses. What types of security precautions did you undertake?
A: We did a threat assessment study with OCA and New York Police Department Intelligence and determined what was the likely threat to the building. Structural and electronic security issues were examined. The truck dock is lined with reinforced concrete to resist an explosion. The structural system not only resists car bombs, but protects the building against a progressive collapse of the columns. A blast protection slab was placed between floors separating offices and the courts. All of the windows are made with a composite material of
laminate and tempered glass and lined in blast resistant frames. Columns outside the building and in the public lobbies are all jacketed in concrete for protection from hand-held explosive devices. Jay Street also has more than 4,500 units of the most advanced electronic security equipment.
Q: What is the future of building courthouses?
A: In the 1930s, we built a lot of courthouses. Then there was a while when courthouses weren’t being built. The design and image of the modern courthouse have seen a transformation. The forbidden fortress-like structures of the past generations have given way to openness, creating user-friendly and neighborhood-friendly courthouses. The need for natural light, energy efficiency and security are also influencing the design.
I believe we will see a trend toward the large, consolidated courthouse, but whether this will continue well into the future is anybody’s guess. In large, urban areas it seems to make sense to consolidate functions to benefit from a number of advantages, such as flexibility to schedule courtrooms and share facilities; ability to better handle security in one location and share administrative functions; and the creation of a substantial economic generator for the area. It’s also probably less expensive than building several smaller courthouses, and it promotes and accommodates a unified court system.
As urban sites become even scarcer, it will be difficult to find multiple sites, making a combined court a more attractive alternative.
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