Antwerp Law Courts
The relationship of the new law courts with Bolivarplaats is a key factor in the design of the building. The relocation of the feeder road and restoration of the area as an important civic space includes proposals for landscaping with plane trees, to provide an informal meeting place. A background of vertical trees will form a backdrop to the approach to the courts from Leien where pedestrians, rather than traffic, will have priority and be improved by a new tram, bus and cyclist infrastructure serving the plaats and connecting it to the existing city transport systems. A simple clarity between public and private space will enable way-finding, natural security and the signalling of a gateway into Antwerp from the south. To this end, the Salle des Pas Perdus is an extension of the Bolivarplaats and a physical continuation of the Amerikalei axis. The placement of the civil and criminal courts to either side of this central space, crowned by a striking crystalline roof structure will create a visual beacon for the city, the plaats and the public space of the Salle des Pas Perdus.
The Salle des Pas Perdus is located at the intersection of all the fingers, at the heart of the building, and architecturally forms the glue that joins the distinct fingers. The ascent from Bolivarplaats to the main level on the second floor provides an appropriate entrance to the courts. This impressive glazed space is naturally lit and ventilated from the courtyards. Access to the courtrooms is via gently rising staircases from the central space. At the hearing room level, the Salle des Pas Perdus becomes a series of waiting areas relating to the hearing rooms themselves. The roofs of the hearing rooms are orientated to face north west, designed to admit daylight without solar glare. These changes give a more organically driven form to the gateway.
The offices form the working heart of the building. They are naturally lit and ventilated with a high degree of flexibility for reconfiguration as required over the life span of the building. The offices comprise three of the six levels and occupy all six fingers. This arrangement maximises connectivity between and within departments, and ensures that the most public functions adjoin the Salle des Pas Perdus, while those that are most private are furthest away. Support functions are located at the lowest levels of the building below the public, judicial and office spaces. The central Living Archive is located below the Salle des Pas Perdus and connected to the offices fingers. Communal staff areas such as the central library and restaurant are located at ground level between the office's fingers with direct access to the landscaped courtyards.
In the Antwerp law courts, the simplicity of the segregated circulation routes aids orientation and benefits from views across the courtyards as well as providing the necessary vertical and horizontal security. The built form will define a series of natural boundaries that significantly simplify the management of the building and create a flexible system that can easily adjust to cater for future growth and change.
The newly formed Bolivarsplaats provides public space immediately in front of the building. The motorway has been diverted to run underneath the Law Courts and square allowing pedestrian routes through the city and a new tram-line to run into the square.
The Salle de Pas Perdus is a public space that provides a focus and orientaion area to the building, from which the court rooms, offices, library and dining hall are accessed.
The sail like structure of the roof are glazed on one surface, allowing natural light to flood into the courtrooms and public spaces below.
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