Division of Capital Asset Management/Administrative Office of the Trial Court, Salem, MA
A new and efficient campus expresses the transparency of the modern judicial system
The J. Michael Ruane Judicial Center is a dignified modern courthouse sited on Federal Street directly adjacent to the historic Probate and Family Court building. The new facility, together with the neighboring historic courthouse (which will be renovated in a later project), creates a courts campus, providing a convenient one-stop location for users and opportunities for shared efficiencies for the trial court.
As a distinctly 21st century civic building, the new trial court mediates between a treasured historic district along Federal Street composed of 18th and 19th century residential buildings , and a major vehicular approach to the city to the north. Our design response was to create two smaller building volumes—one containing the juvenile court (with two courtrooms) and another, the law library (in the relocated and restored 1806 First Baptist Church building)—with a landscaped plaza between them. Located across Federal Street from historic residences, this design responds to the domestic scale and to the alternating rhythms of building and open space. The new building’s juvenile wing portico, colonnade, and entrance are a modern version of the adjacent probate court’s granite portico, and establish the new court’s civic presence.
- The balance of the courts—nine courtrooms, with associated transaction areas and support spaces—are ordered behind a multi-story glass loggia that provides circulation and waiting areas (and spectacular views of the city) while visibly symbolizing the transparency of the modern judicial system.
- Seen from the north, the brick-clad pair of courtroom volumes marks a monumental gateway to the city that reflects the civic importance of the new campus and relates to the vehicular scale and long-distance views of the cityscape along Bridge Street.
- The interior plan grows out of the classical “bar” scheme for a contemporary courthouse, with public circulation, courtroom sets and staff/judges’ areas arranged one behind the other.
- The provision of natural light in all courtrooms was a fundamental design objective. A roof-garden courtyard is cut into the heart of the building to provide natural light for the upper-story courtrooms.
- Programmatic innovations include facilities for public self-help and victim/witness accommodation, and housing the juvenile program in a separate wing contiguous to the main building. It can be operated either as a fully separate facility, or joined, subject to future needs.
- Active participants from outside the design team included The Salem Partnership, Historic Salem, Inc., and Federal Street Neighborhood Alliance community groups. A series of public meetings with these groups resulted in constructive dialogue and an improved design.