Bordeaux Law Courts

Bordeaux Law Courts - conception

In response to the site constraints and mindful of the historical buildings nearby, the building is placed hard up against the Cours d’Albert, one of the city’s main thoroughfares, while the remainder of the site along the medieval ramparts is left open as public landscaped space with views towards the cathedral and central Bordeaux. The administrative areas, including judge’s and lawyer’s chambers, offices for magistrates and support staff are contained within a five-storey rectilinear block along the street frontage. This form with its enclosing roof creates a legible container of parts, and a volume into which the public spaces are placed and articulated.

As a reaction to the ‘corridors of power’, the framed volume also contains and expresses the various segregated circulation routes. The Salle des Pas Perdus is aligned and connected to the existing building, the legibility of the vertical circulation system is fundamental to the organisation of the building and a direct expression of the judicial process. At third-floor level, an elevated walkway provides access for defendants and plaintiffs. Judges have a separate and secure circulation system via bridges across the void, while members of the public enter via a raised walkway along the courtyard.

Public space flows around the ‘vessels’ containing the courtrooms which sit on a plinth of two levels of offices. All of the architectural elements are contained within a great steel frame with a 76 metre long glazed wall, exposing the courts to view from the landscaped courtyard. The entire composition is topped by an undulating, copper-clad roof that forms a loggia over the stairway between the external courtyard and the administration wing.

In contrast to the open, glazed Salle des Pas Perdus and the light-weight steel-framed roof, the courts themselves are contained spaces, lit naturally from the top. Tapered in section and rounded in plan, the forms of the courtrooms echo the mass of the adjoining medieval towers as well as recalling Kentish oast-houses and traditional boat-building. Supported on pilotis, they stand behind a near invisible glass curtain wall, their conical profile penetrating the roof above to facilitate natural ventilation.

The site is located in the heart of the historic core of Bordeaux, near the medieval cathedral and forming a backdrop to the imposing Neo-Classical Palais de Justice facing the Place de la République. The forms of the courtrooms echo the mass of the adjoining medieval towers.

The large stone-paved public square in front of the building, with views of the medieval cathedral includes an avenue of lime trees and benches. It is designed to be accessible to all and yet ensures that the building maintains the required level of security at all times with an open and inviting wall, ensuring clear navigation.

The floorplates to the office wing are designed to accommodate fully adaptable partitioning. Modularity within the hearing rooms and their spatial disposition allows flexibility for different court uses.

Through the legible articulation of each of the architectural components, the main elements of the brief, including the circulation, are expressed. Each group of users have dedicated circulation routes throughout the building to maintain the required level of separation and security.

A concern for energy-efficient design informed all of the key decisions for the project, including the striking form of the naturally ventilated and day-lit courtrooms.

Delegation of responsibilities and decision making to the client body, unusual for a government project, was the key to a very well organised client and team. The client was involved throughout the design process and provided a number of full-time, well-informed staff to work with the design team. The extensive process of fine-tuning the design was greatly facilitated by the commitment of the client and representatives of the Magistrature.