New Courthouse Architecture

They’re being built at a staggering rate. New ones are rapidly replacing old ones. Top architects are being called in to design them. . . .

No, I’m not talking about stadiums. I’m talking about courthouses. A recent Legal Affairs article chronicles a dramatic transformation in courthouse architecture and describes the building boom in new courthouses. Courthouses used to be built as “solemn, neo-Classical style structures,” but recently things have changed. Today, top architects bid on the construction of courthouses:

The new architect selection standards coincide with the largest federal courthouse building initiative in the nation’s history, a program necessitated by the rise in the number of federal cases—up some 20 percent in the last decade—and a shift in caseloads from the Rust Belt to the Sun Belt. As droves of people continue to move from Buffalo to Houston or from St. Louis to Phoenix, caseloads are moving with them. In all, nearly 200 courthouses will be built or renovated over the next 25 years, at a cost in the tens of billions of dollars.

If you’re interested in the history of courthouse architecture, the article is well worth checking out. One of the courthouses discussed in the article is the stunning new federal courthouse in Boston, pictured below:


For all the law architecture nerds out there, I did a little web surfing and found some pictures of new or planned courthouses. Beginning with state courthouses, here are ones from Lexington, SC, Lexington, KY, and Syracuse, NY:


Here are courthouses from Albequerque, NM and Hall County, GA:


Here are new federal courthouses from Washington, DC and Fresno, CA:


Here are new federal courthouses in Las Vegas, NV and Minneapolis, MN:


Here are new federal courthouses in Seattle, WA and Buffalo, NY:


And, although not brand new, it is certainly worth mentioning the 9th Circuit courthouse in Pasadena, CA where I clerked, which is one of the most beautiful courthouses I’ve seen:


Hat tip: beSpacific

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12 Responses

  1. Alfred Brophy says:

    Those courthouses are beautiful. If you’re interested in the history of courthouses, there are a couple of recent, very fine books, Carl Lounsbury’s Courthouses of Early Virginia,

    and Martha McNamara’s From Tavern to Courhouse,

  2. Paul Gowder says:

    Speaking of nice courthouses in Virginia, the newish courthouse in E.D. Va (where I frequently find myself) is also very attractive. It resembles the Lexington one posted here, although it’s taller than it is wide, and it has a rather disturbing suicidal Lady Justice statue in front. (It looks like she’s leaping off a balcony, perhaps horrified at some really bad decision :-))

  3. Joe Liu says:

    Fascinating article. The diversity of the approaches is striking. Some of the courthouses look like generic office buildings; others look markedly different.

    I have to admit that I have a soft spot for the old federal style and the consistency it offered (yes, despite the echoes of fascist architecture).

    At the same time, I can see how the need to loudly announce a federal presence may not be as acute today. (I assume that the Oklahoma City bombing must have had some influence on this).

  4. Kaimi says:

    Phooey on all of these newfangled courthouses. Give me marble columns and an imposing staircase over modern architechture, any day.

    Pictures (via Google Images):

  5. Old Courthouse Architecture

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  6. More New Courthouse Architecture

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  7. Ann says:

    How may I get a list of architects in the southeast U.S. who specialize in courthouses?

  8. Adam says:

    Just to clarify, the DC Circuit didn’t get a new courthouse, just a new “annex” to the old courthouse.

  9. Juanita Cutler says:

    Where can a person get hold of a list of Federal courthouses by name? That is, I am wondering how many are actually named after people, and who?


  10. J-Red says:

    Both federal courthouses in Maryland (Baltimore and Greenbelt) are pretty sharp too, though the picture of the Baltimore courthouse on the site here doesn’t do it any justice.


  11. Courthouse design changes have been driven by the security needs, both passive and active. This is a nice article on the fedral courthouses. There is also a need for renovations and new designs of district as well as circuit courts. A majority of these are outdated in many aspects. We have been working with the State Court Administrators office to look at exising courts for security upgrades at a min.

  12. Jodha Hilldale says:

    I have just finished a sculpture of the Goddess Themis, better known as “Lady Justice” or “Blind Justice.” It is a plaque that is 4ft High and 2ft wide done in high bas relief. I am interested in selling it to courthouses to use in all those beautiful new buidings that are popping up all over the country. Does anyone have any clues as to how I can go about doing that? I can work with the foundry on changing the size so it can be much larger if that’s needed.