Holding Court in Old Town: A New Courthouse for Alexandria

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Virginia Tech


In the United States, the preeminent ideal concerning the justice system is that all people are innocent until proven guilty. The reality of the system, however, is not so cut and dry. Biases, mental health crises, and inequity all play a part in creating unjust circumstances for those accused of a crime. What role does architecture have to play in the judicial system? The architecture of our courthouses communicates that people are guilty until proven innocent. Movement through the courts is highly choreographed, creating a rigidity and hierarchy that encourages an us-them mentality and fosters a sense of "otherness." What does that communicate to the judge or jury–that this person is less than human?

Our modern courtroom form is rooted in Roman basilica form, as judicial proceedings would happen there. It is a highly theatrical, highly structured space with a hierarchy built up in elevation–placing different levels of value on individuals. What would a courtroom look like where everyone, even though they have varying amounts of power based on their respective roles, sees eye to eye? What is the role of architecture in this question? My goal is to design a courtroom and resulting courthouse where, for the duration of the proceedings, everyone has the same level of perceived humanity.



Courthouse, Justice, Courthouse Square, Transparency, Alexandria, Alternative Courthouse, Hand Drawing