Architecture Whisperer, No. 4

Behold, the building speaks!  This one says, “The Law of the State is ironclad. Judgment is exacting. Crime does not pay.”

Law Court Offices 1

The Law Court Offices in Venice, Italy consist of a tall, dark and narrow, nearly windowless monolith that connects, at the ground level, to buildings of a re-purposed 19th century factory complex. The varied components of the court system all exist or can be accessed from somewhere within this “black box.”

Law COurt Offices 6The dark form is clad in oxidized copper panels punctuated by narrow windows. The entry is recessed under a 15 foot overhang. The Law Court Offices’ light-absorbing, geometrically simplified presence would be remarkable in any setting.  It stands apart, attracts attention for being different, and strikes a degree of trepidation into the viewer.

In the context of Venice, the City of Water and Light, it is the antithesis of most Venetian buildings, especially those along the Grand Canal, that fairly glitter with surface pattern and ornament.

Ca'd'OroTypically, they meet the ground or water with colonnades, behind which are layered the cool recesses of shadowed loggias. Above is the Ca’ D’Oro.

The historical center of state justice in Venice was the Doge’s Palace, on St. Marks Square. It has fabric-inspired brickwork, pedestrian-friendly Venetian Gothic colonnades, and lacy terra-cotta ornament. This lovely exterior’s grandeur does not, however, correlate with the harsh judgments and punishments that were imposed from within.

Doge's PalaceContrast the Doge’s Palace wall with the Law Court Offices’ wall:

Law Court WallThe architect C+S contends that this simple, archetypical, compact shape and the choice of materials constitute a metaphor representing “institution,” in all of its connotations of tradition, organization, and ritual. In addition to this, I think it symbolizes power, severity, and a general unsympathetic authority.  The State will not be moved. No one can escape justice. This is the message about the Law revealed by Venice in its choice of this design.

As an interesting contrast, the new Law Courts of Bordeaux, France, deliver an entirely different message about the Law.

richard-rogers-law-courts-bordeauxIn the words of its architect Richard Rogers, “This form with its enclosing roof creates a legible container of parts.” The cone-shaped masses are courtrooms. Circulation paths and connections can be seen.

Rogers says that the building intentionally “emphasizes, through a feeling of transparency and openness, a positive perception of the accessibility of the French justice system.“

Whether or not French and Italian legal systems are exceptionally different from one another, these two municipalities have built architecture that speaks of two very different things.

Photo No. 1 courtesy of Pietro Savorelli; Photo No. 2 courtesy of  Alessandra Bello; Photo No. 3 courtesy of Pietro Savorelli; Photo No. 4 courtesy of Wikipedia; Photo No. 5 courtesy of John Hopewell’s blog Italy 2010; Photo No. 6 courtesy of Pietro Savorelli; Photo No. 7 courtesy of Peter Augustin.

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