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Saint Louis County Family Courts, 2014 AIA Orlando Un-built Award

Dewberry Architects have designed a sensitive contextual addition for Saint Louis County, Missouri. The county publicized a design-build competition, to collect a list of interested architect/contractor partnerships. Subsequently, the county shortlisted five design build teams to participate in the design completion, lasting 6 months. The designs were taken through early design development stages and a fixed price was provided by each team. The design featured in this submission scored second place in price and first place in design, but ultimately was not selected.

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Below are excepts from the submission by the Dewberry Architects, discussing the features and details of the design. This project is well developed and worth an in depth review.

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The program for this project was to renovate the existing county courthouse and add 91,200 GSF of new family courtrooms, juvenile courtrooms and court support functions, as well as a new 72,000 GSF juvenile detention center. The existing 220,700 GSF building was constructed in 1968 in a Late Modern architectural style (tan color building). It originally was built as an eight story symmetrical courthouse sited over a four level 1,400 car parking garage. The parking structure also extends to the south of the existing courthouse by 240 feet.

Over the past 40 years very few upgrades where made to the building. In 2008 a master plan study identified the need for a major renovation to the existing county courthouse, and the opportunity to consolidate the family courts on the same site. The master plan identified that the expansion would be built on the south garage and both the renovation and new additions would not cost more than $122m. The juvenile detention was sited to the west of the existing building and is not part of this submission.

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The floor plans are merged with the north-south “Gallery Space”, linking the existing building and the new additions together. It is organized along a 3 level circulation axis that connects the existing and new construction; unifying their spatiality and language though LIGHT, TEXTURE AND COLOR.  Additionally this strategy of a contiguous “Super-floor” allows the high volume functions and large program elements to be located on the first floor, juvenile courtrooms and supporting programs on the second floor, and the domestic courts on the third.

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The placement of the entry pavilion capitalizes on one of the City’s most important civic gathering spaces, the Buzz Westfall Memorial Park.  First-time or repeat users of the courthouse can intuitively find the building front door with its location just south of the park and on axis with Carondelet Avenue.

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Also, the entry pavilion channels an abundance of daylight into the lobby, which reinforces the idea of transparency within our justice system. The pavilion has a strong and well proportioned scale mediating between the mass of the existing courthouse and the pedestrian environment of Buzz Westfall Memorial Plaza.

The family courtrooms are the more formal extension of the comforting gestures created in the public space. The gently bent wood ceiling over the Dias brings in the familiar embracing gesture of the public space, yet scales it to the well of the courtroom and distinguishes the importance of the judge and the proceedings. The ceiling folds away before it reaches the back wall to allow a shaft of daylight to wash the wood backdrop.  The concave curve of the Judges bench is a soothing shape and recognizes the inclusion of all participants in the courtroom. Especially in the juvenile courts, the attorney tables are set up for a more intimate and conferencing face-to-face discussion, where juveniles, families, and representatives can come to a restorative resolution.

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You can view all the 2014 AIA Orlando Design Awards at this link:

You can view Dewberry’s website here:


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