“The central atrium is the principal space in the Courts Building – rising the full height of the interior,” says Warring. “This has a full-height, glazed wall looking directly into the landscaped courtyard.”
With clear lines of sight to stairs, lifts and the pedestrian bridges, the atrium provides an easy wayfinding element within the complex – one move of many to help decrease stress for visitors and occupants in the courts environment.
The public cafe and court registry are on the first floor and the courts and workspaces are on the two levels above, with open glass balustrading overlooking the atrium. In a sense, the Courts Building is really three buildings, joined at the corners by large, airy glass vertical circulation spaces.
Myriad stairs and elevators are positioned to avoid judges, lawyers, defendants, jurors or police being in the same lift or stairwell and potentially compromising a trial.
The design of the courtroom interiors also furthers the change of design language from intimidating spaces of the past to more calming spaces. So while the High Court had to retain much of the formality of older-style courts, dealing as it does with the most serious cases, the Youth Court and Family Court, as examples, have more informal designs, with curved, furniture-like layouts and ceiling features.
As with much of the atrium, the courts are largely finished in wood, chosen for its natural warmth and character.
The Precinct has been designed to be embedded with Ngai Tuahuriri and Ngai Tahu customs and values. Jessica Smallbone of the Ministry’s project team led extensive engagement over four years with mana whenua to develop more than a dozen integrated designs across the Precinct, including a huia feather pattern for the court windows.
As well as adding another positive feature to the court environment, the windows’ special double-layered fritted glass also decreases solar gain on these rooms by 40%.
While the co-location of government entities made the Courts Building’s circulation somewhat tricky, in all other ways it presented an economy of money, time, and effort.
For example, defendants in police holding cells can be brought straight to court via secure corridors and stairs – without the need to be driven across the city with the attendant security, vehicle and personnel costs involved.