Inside the Colorado State Judicial Building

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.

By | 2013-11-13T19:21:13+00:00 November 26, 2009|Categories: Architecture, Civic Center, Government & Civic|Tags: |15 Comments


  1. Speedbird November 28, 2009 at 2:31 am

    Excellent pictures! Another great post.

    It is somewhat sad to see the building go. I've always liked the design of the Judicial Building which lacks a main ground floor. Of course, this means we have some new buildings to look forward to being built soon!

  2. Crush_Buds November 28, 2009 at 8:59 am

    Nice story and pics on a building I may never get to see the inside of again.

  3. BruceQ November 28, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    Very cool, Ken, thanks for sharing that!

    I also think the History Museum is a pretty cool building. It too was built in 1977, same architect? It is scheduled to close on March 28, four months away. They are offering free admission until then, and the Allen True exhibit is not to be missed!

    Also, Shawn Snow of Denver History Tours will be signing his new book at the Museum on Saturday, Dec. 5 from 10 to 2. More at

  4. BruceQ November 28, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    Hey, doing a little research, I found this:

    If Mr. DiBenedetto didn't design the doors (and floors, and ceilings?) directly, he certainly inspired them.

    Makes me even sadder to see it go… and even gladder that you were able to document the interior!

  5. A test blog November 28, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    That little area above the library is one my favorite spots in Denver to sit and think.

    Absolutely sucks they can't find a parking lot to build the new justice center on.

  6. historymystery November 29, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    In the "You Know When You're Getting Older" department: when major civic buildings get torn down that you remember getting built. When I was about 13, I remember climbing to the dome of the Capitol and looking down into a vast hole that was to become these two buildings. I am glad, though, that the museum will have a new home. As exciting as it seemed when it was new, it has never been terribly functional, and it has always felt creepy that most of the major exhibits were underground. I hope they can save the diBenedetto mural and other elements, either for the new building or for some other civic structure.

    That corridor shot–I wonder of Mr. Liebeskind toured this before he designed the Hamilton Wing–it's just as vertigo-inducing as the art museum.

  7. Anonymous November 30, 2009 at 11:05 am

    What a waste! It's a shame that fully functional 30-year-old buildings are getting torn down when there are so many parking lots in the area. I didn't realize the state budget was so healthy. Why not rehab the buildings and lease/sell them? This is prime real estate. Is it absolutely necessary for the courts and AG offices to be right next to the park? The lack of private sector presence in this area is one of the reasons behind its many problems.

  8. Anonymous November 30, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    I agree 100% with the 11/30 8:05 AM comment. Too bad they couldn't have swapped the existing building with the Dikeous for their land at 14th and Court.

  9. Anonymous November 30, 2009 at 7:26 pm

    hey i know this is off topic but a cool article in 5280…

  10. Anonymous November 30, 2009 at 8:18 pm

    Um…the building is certainly not "fully functional"; that is why it's being replaced. And there is no way in Hell the State would give up this prime real estate. So, the only options are a dysfunctional state building or a functional, hopefully more attractive state building.

  11. Anonymous November 30, 2009 at 11:19 pm

    I agree. Unless there is private sector and more residents, civic center will continue to be a dead zone. 9-5 m-f government buildings don't cut it. Plus, this building is unique. We will regret tearing it down someday. Can't they just build a taller building where the history museum sits?

  12. Crush_Buds December 1, 2009 at 8:24 am

    Hey! The Four Season's Spire is lit up!

  13. Anonymous December 1, 2009 at 5:54 pm

    Thanks for the pictures – I too hope the new justice center incorporates some of the features of the current supreme court chambers.

    You failed to mention some of the less desirable features of that building. Like the creepy grey fuzzy wallpaper in the enterprise hallway that attracts (and hangs on to) dead moths & spiders. Also did not show the water spot on the ceiling of the court of appeals chamber on the same floor. The bucket for that leak sits smack in the middle of the room – on top of the podium.

    Nice building – best to remember it in pictures though…

  14. Saint December 2, 2009 at 11:20 am

    Dag, I love those two buildings, the Supreme Court and the History Museum buildings. Such neat designs that will undoubtedly be replaced by a large box. What was best about the History Museum was the relative ease one could climb it at 2 in the morning to watch all the drunks walk back to Capitol Hill. Fun times gone.

  15. ohwilleke December 22, 2009 at 6:01 pm

    The existing building’s attitude towards security is one of its most striking features. Like many public buildings constructed around then, it appears that the focus was on controlling unruly crowds that might want to occupy the building in an act of civil disobedience. Access is by elevator only, limiting the number of people in any wave of entrants, conduct inside can’t be observed from outside, and the vestibule is easily locked out. Justices have secure underground parking with a remote entrance on the other side of the history museum. Access to the law as symbolized by the library with its skylight, is transparent, but access to the court is controlled, so that it is independent from mob rule.

    The failure of this arrangement has metaphorical force as well.

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