The Colorado State Judicial Building at 14th and Broadway, home to the Colorado Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, is part of the diverse collection of prominent buildings that constitute Denver’s historic Civic Center. The Judicial Building’s block also includes the wedge-shaped Colorado History Museum at 13th and Broadway.
As you probably know, the state is currently building a new history museum a block to the south at 12th and Broadway. This coming spring, the history museum will relocate to a temporary site and the state courts will move into the former Rocky Mountain News offices in the DNA Building across Civic Center Park. Once those moves are complete, the existing judicial building and history museum will be razed to make way for the construction of a new Colorado Justice Center that will occupy the entire block. The new justice center will include room for not only the state’s highest courts, but significant office space to accommodate the entire Attorney General’s office and all other Department of Law agencies. The new Colorado Justice Center will be finished in 2013.
The design of the new justice center is still in progress. While I have not seen any preliminary renderings yet, I can report that the new complex will likely consist of two components: a shorter structure facing the park for the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals courtrooms, law library, and court staff offices that will have a more dignified, formal presence worthy of one of the three branches of government; and a taller structure on the 13th Avenue side of the block for the Attorney General’s offices and other users that will have a more office-building look to it. How those two structures will be integrated (physically and/or architecturally) is still being worked out.
Anyway, since the existing judicial building will be demolished less than a year from now, I thought it would be appropriate to document some of the building’s more notable features and share those images with you. I have the good fortune to be friends with Colorado Supreme Court Justice Alex Martinez, who kindly provided an insider’s tour of the building for me and architect friend, Chris Shears.
The Colorado State Judicial Building, designed by RNL, was completed in 1977. The modernist structure features an inverted “U” design, with offices on floors two through four, the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals courtrooms on the fifth floor, and a law library in the basement.
Certainly one of the building’s most intriguing features is the space under the “U” which contains a skylight for the underground law library and a large mural by Angelo diBenedetto installed on the underside of the building above featuring representations of 60 persons who made outstanding contributions to the growth of justice and human rights.
Inside the law library, the space receives not only plenty of diffused sunlight, but also the occasional stares from onlookers through the skylight above.
On the fifth floor are the courtrooms for the state’s top two courts. The hallway between the two courtrooms feels like a corridor on the USS Enterprise. On the other hand, the grand doorway to the Supreme Court chamber evokes a warmer but still serious tone that, through its wood-carved sunburst motif, is reminiscent of something from a pre-Columbian civilization.
Inside the Supreme Court chamber, the modernist sunburst theme continues, with the courtroom’s amazing wood floor stealing the show. Standing at the podium is said to induce a dizzying effect. I immediately felt it when I stood in the spotlight for my imaginary address to the state’s highest court; the floor’s radiating pattern gave me a slight sensation like I was getting sucked into a vortex. Chris Shears and Justice Martinez seem unfazed.
The sunburst theme is also reflected in the beams in the ceiling as well as through the repeated use of the main door’s carved circular design in the decorative trim throughout the chamber. The courtroom also features two stained-glass windows honoring former Supreme Court justices.
Some of the more exceptional modernist elements from the Colorado State Judicial Building may hopefully survive and find their way into the new judicial center or into some other public place where they can be appreciated by future generations for the architectural era they represent.
I’ll be sad in a way to see the Colorado State Judicial Building go. It lasted barely 30 years. But Colorado has grown substantially in those 30 years and spatial, security, and technological needs require significantly more than the current building can provide. Hopefully, the new Colorado Justice Center will not only functionally serve our state for many decades to come, but also positively contribute to Denver’s architectural heritage.