Paying Homage
to Public Service

Designed to encourage congregation—and to last more than a century—the Seattle Justice Center fulfills a longstanding need for a place of civic discourse. It incorporates up-to-date security, amenities, and high-quality materials in a classically modern style that resists appearing dated.

And paying homage of another kind to its citizens, the project has achieved a LEED silver rating—fusing high-performance technology with civic goals to create a uniquely welcoming public environment.

Openness and Ease of Movement

The expansive curtain wall’s transparency illuminates the building’s 13 stories, signifying both accessibility and the intrinsic search for clarity and truth in our justice system. Upon entering the lobby, the environment feels dynamic and fluid and promotes circulation, a marked contrast to the more confined experience of traditional government buildings.

A Building for Everyone

With strong conceptual clarity and visual intensity, the design promotes an intimate understanding of its construction. Traditional, timeless materials provide a dignified palette: cherry wood in the courts, along with natural limestone, stainless steel, and terrazzo throughout the building. Neutral colors—a few highly contrasting dark and light earth tones—likewise convey a universal sense of awe and respect. These simple, beautiful finishes, free from cladding, convey a sense of honesty and fairness, and demonstrate that the building is meant to serve everyone equally.

Access and Convenience

The Seattle Justice Center, which houses the city’s courts and police headquarters, ushers in a new standard of service for the City’s public court system. It provides many new amenities befitting a modern courthouse including attorney-client interview booths in the holding areas and on courtroom floors, a quick payment window near the front entrance to avoid security screening, a large customer lobby with seating, a community resource center, a waiting room for the children of defendants and witnesses, workrooms for both defense and prosecution attorneys, jury deliberation rooms, and an interpreter waiting room.

Creating a Public Character

For visitors arriving at the Seattle Justice Center, the structure is immediately legible, as the courts and police headquarters have their own entries. The court entry on Fifth Avenue is located off the public plaza, enlivened with flags, steps and a water feature. Throughout the building, public spaces have received significant art works to emphasize the courts’ public character. On the building’s top floor, the jury assembly room with vaulted ceilings and expansive windows pays respect to the jury’s public service. In fact, much of the building is accessible to citizens, including a large roof terrace adjacent to the jury assembly room.

A Model of Sustainability

To fulfill a mandate from the City of Seattle to achieve a LEED silver rating, the Justice Center adopted a number of innovative greening strategies. The main southwest-facing glass façade could have had a large potential for solar heat gain, but the designers incorporated a little-known technology—a double skin “glazed thermal buffer”—that dramatically reduces heat gain in the summer and allows for heat retention in the winter. This high-tech curtainwall, rare in the U.S., also maximizes the penetration of daylight into the building, and the designers purposely kept its perimeter area open for everyone to enjoy. The public plaza’s landscaping is irrigated with excess rain water harvested and stored from a planted roof that further reduces solar heat gain, reduces the amount of energy used for cooling, and improves city air quality.


IIDA Northern Pacific Best Of Competition