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Colorado Justice Center Design

This morning’s Denver Post has an article about the design of the state’s new justice center, to be officially called the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Complex. Click here for a PDF of the article.

The project will occupy the entire block bounded by 14th, Broadway, 13th, and Lincoln and contain two buildings linked together: a 4-story, 150,000 sf courthouse for the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, and a 12-story, 450,000 sf office tower for the Department of Law including the State Attorney General’s office. The project will seek LEED-Gold certification.

Here’s the photograph from the Post article of a model of the new complex (photo by Jason Knowles, Fentress Architects):

Photograph of model of new Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Complex

The courthouse will include a 4-story glass-walled atrium and rotunda at 14th and Lincoln facing the State Capitol. Demolition of the existing Judicial Building and Colorado History Museum is scheduled for May, with construction beginning on the new judicial complex in September. The project will be complete in 2013. I’ll see if I can get some additional images of the project to share with you.

By the way, Ralph L. Carr was Colorado’s governor from 1939-1949 and was one of the few public leaders in the country who openly opposed the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and bravely fought to protect their citizenship and rights as Americans—not a popular thing to do during the war.

It is really exciting to see this project becoming a reality. With construction of the new Colorado History Center underway a block  to the south of the Judicial Complex site, and with all the new things planned at Union Station, the two ends of Downtown Denver will be busy with construction for the next several years.

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13 Comments

  1. BeyondDC says:

    It’s not a glass curtain wall! It doesn’t try to compete for attention with the state capitol!

    Hard to judge very much from a not-very-detailed picture, but based on those two characteristics alone it appears there is a lot to like. Hopefully it’s good at close up scale (always more difficult).

  2. ohwilleke says:

    The blandness of the Department of Law building, and its separation from the appellate court house as a separate building, seem to undermine the notion that it was really necessary for it to be located in such prime real estate or that it was really necessary to scrap the history museum.

    If the old history museum had to be scrapped, moreover, why didn’t the Department of Law building get put in the former parking lot between 13th and 12th where the new history museum is going to go, with the new history museum returned to roughly its former location?

    The appellate courthouse is certainly a stylistic contrast with the old one. It is neo-classical, while it predecessor was modern. Its fascade emphasizes openness to the public, while the old one emphasized restricted access. It is modest in scale, the former building loomed high.

    One can’t tell how much, if any, of the structure will be underground. The current structure has an underground law library and underground parking. Is the intent that this building have underground parking (for the Department of Law, or just for the Judiciary?), or is that thought that AG personnel will use the new state parking facility between it and the capital?

    The model seems to suggest that the low pillar lined structure towards the capital would be the law library, that the four story office building component would be office space, and the dome capped central portions would be the appellate court rooms.

    In connection with the move the appellate courts are going to e-filing (ending a constant stream of couriers into the building), and fewer and fewer lawyers use paper books to do legal research (even laypeople tend to use the Internet now), so one would expect that the more open structure would, ironically, have quite a bit less pedestrian traffic (something also seen in the new Alfred Arraj federal court house on 20th Street).

    I hope that the gallery space in the court rooms is increased and made more available to the public. The U.S. Supreme Court’s gallery is far too small, so seating availability is always too low, and the old appellate court house was also not at all observer friendly.

  3. Eleanor says:

    Does the current judicial building have underground parking? I don’t think so. The judges park across the street in the new-ish state parking garage.

    I hope the designers don’t go too crazy with gallery space in the new courtrooms, given that most of the current gallery space goes unused a vast majority of the time.

  4. The Dirt says:

    Wow! This is the best design I could actually think of. Without knowing what materials will be used or how the facade will come out, this look great! I hope nothing will ruin it between now and construction time.

  5. Matt Pizzuti says:

    This project is a double score for Denver!

    First, the well-proportioned neoclassical frontage of the shorter portion of the building is a great compliment to the Capitol building and the City and County building across the park, and forms a cohesive theme with the surrounding high-profile government buildings. I’m sure a few of the postmodernist architecture critics will say that such a throw-back to ancient times is a bad idea, but I think it looks great and is one of the few contexts in which we can get away with it.

    Second, the building behind it has some substantial mass, and covers the office building behind it on 13th and Broadway, which is – lets face it – sort of an eyesore with the way it stands out. I think it actually brings the building across the street to scale and makes it look good.

  6. ohwilleke says:

    @Eleanor

    What I understand to be the underground parking lot access in the current courthouse is between the history museum and 13th Street on the Broadway side and has diplomatic mission style entry barriers.

  7. cc says:

    Another example of poor planning. I totally agree with ohwilleke’s question. So let me get this straight. We are demolishing the colorado history museum, rebuilding it 2 blocks south and then putting the justice center where it used to be!!!

    Hmmm!!!

    Wouldn’t it be MORE EFFICIENT to leave the history museum where it is, build the new justice center between 12th and 13th. Can someone help me out here in understanding the logic?

    As a side note – being a past employee in the security life building, I’m sure they will all be stoked (NOT) that a tall building will be north of them to block out any decent views of downtown.

  8. Eleanor says:

    CC: the current judicial building will be demolished regardless, and that takes up part of this block anyway. Further, I don’t think the current tenants of the history museum building are as enamored of it as some people on this blog are. I believe the history museum wants a new building. So, because we need 2 new buildings anyway, it saves nothing to keep the history museum in its existing location. And I agree with those who said that the judicial branch, an important co-equal branch of government, should have a prominent position across from the Capitol and Civic Center.

  9. MarkB says:

    Is it just too much to hope that parts of this building would have some kind of commercial space at ground level, so that people who spend a lot of time at the library would have some options for lunch other than the awful Mad Greens? (not to speak against co-tenant Novo Coffee, which has the best coffee in town). I speak from personal experience–Tony’s is great, but it’s four blocks from the library. Not only that, but commercial space would add lots of interest for pedestrians–it’s a dismal walk through that area now.

    I like the design, and I completely agree with Pizzuti–cover up that house of mirrors across the street!

  10. Dan says:

    I have to agree with CC’s comments. Isn’t this sort of wastefulness what got this country in the position we’re in today? Can we really afford to throw away forty-something year-old taxpayer investments because we don’t like them anymore or because they struggle to suit their purpose anymore? By this logic, can’t we justify tearing down the state capital and the City and County building and replace them with something more suitable for today? Couldn’t the existing buildings have been saved, remodeled, re-purposed, added-on and/or the Colorado Justice Department and the museum relocated? It seems extraordinarily wasteful to destroy a fairly recent investment that is probably worth $400,000,000 in today’s dollars. I agree with those who like the design – I like it too – and it can be built somewhere else nearby. As a taxpayer, I really hate throwing away perfectly viable structures – and I hate what it represents.

  11. Troy says:

    Not liking the building’s design direction… do we really need this building to relate to the US Supreme Court’s corinthian columns and all? We need something bold and modern, like the current structure but functional.

  12. MarkB says:

    One more comment, in response to Dan: this is not a new phenomenon, tearing down major government-financed buildings. The City and County of Denver had a wonderful 1880s courthouse on the full block bounded by 15th, 16th, Court Place (hence the name “Court Place”) and Tremont Street. It had a four stories of neoclassic architecture, topped by a dome, topped by a statue of Justice. Although not quite as impressive as the State Capitol a few blocks away, it nevertheless had a presence, along with a lot of historical associations.

    The City & County Building opened in 1932, so in 1933 after failing to find someone to buy the “old” (less than 50 years old) thing the city, penny wise and pound foolish, tore it down. Tearing down a couple of buildings put up in the 1970s? Certainly not unprecedented.

  13. ohwilleke says:

    @Dan I believe that the current judicial building’s demise is partially a product of irremediable structural problems with the existing building.

    @CC I think that the judicial building and history museum are sufficiently intertwined that both have to go. Still, nothing would have prevented a new history museum from being rebuilt on the same site, with a new Department of Law building put where the new history museum is going.

    As a matter of symbolism, there is also something to be said for a clear separation between the judicial and executive branches that the design blurs. It creates the image of the state’s attorney’s looming over the judicial branch and having a privileged place close to it. The Justice Department building in Washington D.C., for example, is far removed from the U.S. Supreme Court building.

    I also don’t like the symbolism of having an executive branch building that is much taller than the state capitol building so close to it.

    As a matter of practicality, there is also something to be said for keeping most of the AG’s office away from Civic Center. It is, as the drawing illustrates, massive. Only a small core of the AG’s office regularly does business with the appellate courts (criminal appeals, solicitor general’s office), or with the legislature. Consolidating the AG’s office in one building (1) increases the traffic and parking load on Civic Center, (2) much of the office doesn’t have cause to interact with the general public, and (3) a single building facilitates the spread of gossip (a fair amount of the day to day work of the AG’s office involves white collar crime/regulatory enforcement work that is best removed from the state’s gossip hub).

    Given that the relocation of the history museum is, alas, a done deal, why not put a mere human scale building of four stories or so in that location, at a far lower cost, containing only AG office functions that need to be downtown, and renting office space elsewhere for the rest of the AG’s office. After all, it isn’t as if we have a shortage of office space in this city (major rentals would provide stimulus to a struggling part of the state capitol’s economy), and the state isn’t exactly so flush with cash that it needs to be spending as much as originally planned on a new, large, not particularly interesting office building right in Civic Center.

    I’d also symbolically, prefer the idea of putting a building for the Secretary of State in that location than the AG’s office. Lawyers, including the AG, thrive on secrecy. The Secretary of State is a quasi-judicial honest broker whose touchstone is openness to the public. The SOS does more business with the general public and with the state capitol than most of the AG’s office. The SOS could similarly be housed in a human scale building. And, this kind of change could be made now without causing any harm. It isn’t a done deal.

    I do agree that this is a raw deal for the Security Life building, whose designers could reasonably expected that their view would be maintained because of the importance that Denver has given to the Capitol view plane and because there was no reason to think when it was built that the two civic buildings between it and downtown would be torn down and replaced with something much taller.

    @MarkB The new history museum will have a mix of private and public space. The museum doesn’t get the entire building. I think that the new space will be mostly condos however.