Reevaluating the perceptions of traditional civic architecture and applying a new method of achieving a presence in the city, the Portland Municipal Courthouse establishes itself as a prominent figure of authority. The design concept is focused on the idea of heterogeneous stitching. This applies both in a sociological and environmental context, renewing a dialogue between the judicial system and the inhabitants of the city. Form, landscape, sustainable aspects, and building security are seamlessly implemented to equate the sum total. While balancing an image of authority, the courthouse opens to the community as a place for interaction and social involvement.
Site development involved pulling the earth away from the building, giving it the suggestion of rising out of the ground and establishing its fixed presence. The form is a dichotomy of heavy and light, based on how these two meet and interact. Again this is a demonstration of connecting dissimilar form and materials. As a heavy concrete base provides monumentality, a smooth, light curtain wall pulls away and reaches into the sky, providing a watchful eye on the city. The structure is an exposed steel frame. This was chosen to reinforce and deliver an image of stability and poise.
The landscape surrounding the building not only provides a contrast to the heavy concrete but also creates numerous opportunities for reducing run-off. Bioswales line the periphery of the site, connecting an already dominant design feature of Portland and providing an alternative security barrier to bollards. Located on the east and south sides of the site, wild grasses provide a softer, more inviting feel to the community. Reclaimed wood decking also helps link the sidewalk to the entrance, giving more humanistic scale and feel. The concept is integrated into the landscape, as the grasses continue, unbroken into the atrium. This generates a visual link, inside and out.
Providing not only a place for justice and social connectivity is the responsibility of integrating sustainable elements into the building design. The first move was to reduce the building footprint on the site, limiting site run-off. Along with reducing run-off was to collect rainwater collected from the roof and redistribute it among the green roofs and surrounding vegetation. The Portland Municipal Courthouse in partner with Kawneer integrates several of their products to promote LEED credibility. The major design move was to create a double skin glazing with an air gap on the east and south sides of the building, to help reduce heat gain and integrate stack ventilation. The provision of bike storage and shower facilities was another important aspect to consider. Portland encourages alternative transportation, providing bike lanes. Located across Couch St, north of the site, are two bike storage facilities for employees. Another design feature integrating Kawneer Aluminum is the fabricated panels on the east facade, which help protect the three-story atrium from the morning sun. These operable panels are perforated to allow some light to penetrate and can be fully retracted in the afternoon when no longer needed.
Building security was yet another opportunity to achieve the idea of connectivity. Three separate and distinct types of circulation were considered: public, judges, and the defendant’s. While programmatically these must remain independent, the idea was to create visual continuity in the atrium between floors. Sight lines allow visual access to the courtrooms from the lobby. This design allows for people to be watched and seen by security employees with ease while encouraging multiple levels of interaction.