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Christmas bells were ringing. The sights and sounds of the yuletide season greeted me as I made my way through notorious Manila traffic that evening. Except, this was on the eve of Halloween and on that week, the anniversary of one of the strongest and deadliest tropical cyclones ever recorded, Category 5 Typhoon Haiyan known locally in the Philippines as Typhoon Yolanda.

(Speakers at the Leapfrog From Disaster Symposium: Melissa Sterry, R. Denise Everson Assoc AIA LEED AP - AIA Housing KC Advisory Group, Lira Luis AIA RIBA LEED AP BD+C - AIA PMKC Advisory Group and AIA Diversity Council, Dr James Karl Fischer RIBA AIA - AIA NYC Chapter and RIBA-USA President)

On November 5th to the 7th, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)-USA and the Leapfrog Project including the American Institute of Architects (AIA) International Region, hosted the inaugural Leapfrog From Disaster Symposium at the country’s national landmark, the
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Activities : Charrettes, Conferences, Courses, Seminars, Special Projects, Walking Tours, Workshops  Publications : Articles, Best Practices, Case Studies, Presentations, Research, Tips  Knowledge Communities (cross tag) : Housing Knowledge Community

It has been two weeks since the AAJ Architecture for Social Justice Conference in St. Louis and I want to express my appreciation to the leadership of the AIA AAJ for sponsoring scholarships to attend. The commitment to provide these scholarships means a lot to young professionals interested in participating and I am grateful to be a recipient of one of the scholarships this year. I applied to be a 2014 Scholar because the conference provided a forum to connect our research on courthouses in the Shape Computation Lab at Georgia Tech with a broader audience of other architects and stakeholders interested in the building type and the challenges of justice architecture. It also offered a full spectrum of lessons from others in the field presenting their own inspirations, practice, and work. This turned out to be a wonderful testing ground for our ideas inspiring several new conversations, making friends, and giving us momentum to take the next steps in our research. 

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It's been 1 week since the 2014 AAJ conference kicked off in St. Louis and each scholar has been asked to write a summary to recap their experience at the event. I want to thank AIA again for giving me the opportunity to attend my first AAJ conference.

I really walked away with a great experience and some new perspectives on the future of our Justice system and how architects can make a difference with design and also how we as a collective society can try to make a difference in our communities. It was an ideal place for meeting new faces, networking with peers and mentors, getting reacquainted with distant colleagues and attending many educational seminars about what we do in this profession and why we do it.

To begin, we heard an inspiring speech from Judge Edwards, 22nd Circuit Court of Missouri, who founded the Innovative Concept Academy for at risk youth. His education program is finding tremendous success by providing extra supervision and limiting idle time to kids who lack any supervision and have far too much idle time, combined with economic poverty, leads to nowhere good, says Judge Edwards.

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November 6th, 2014 | 8:00am – 9:15am | Judge Celeste F. Bremer and Professor Athanassios Economou

Courthouses are places of work, where function, security, and cost must be managed. They also represent justice and the Third Branch of government. Their form should encourage citizens’ participation in a democratic society. This debate between a professor of architecture and a federal judge examines whether there is a place for balconies in contemporary courtrooms. Does a balcony save money, increase security, and actually foster a new set of relationships among the actors in courtrooms, or are they appendages whose time has passed? This lively discussion reviews the “standard” space and work relationships used in U. S. Courthouses, historic models, and other countries’ courthouse designs that incorporate balconies. Participants will be challenged to analyze whether balconies symbolize exclusion, or function for the democratic inclusion of citizens in the justice process.
Appreciate the historic antecedents of balconies as a component of courtroom design.

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November 6th, 2014 | 8:00am – 9:15am | Enzo Vicenzino


Justice and injustice issues inspire social debates. Social justice is built around principles that challenge justice and value diversity. It relates to issues of dignity; political, economic and social equality. “Spatial justice, most simply, is the intersection of space and social justice” -Lefebre, Henri. Le Droit à la ville. 1968. The design team at Stantec Architecture took these principles to heart when designing the Calgary Police Service’s (CPS) Westwinds Campus.

This case study demonstrates the alignment of a progressive law enforcement campus with the Service’s goals for community policing, optimizing operational efficiencies and fostering a strong workplace community. It focuses on how the holistic design of the campus achieves these elements of social justice. The campus provides for spatial justice by its impact on education, wellness, empowerment and cultural identity.

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November 7th, 2014 | 9:25am – 10:40am | J. Richard Davidson, AIA


The Honorable Steven C. Teske, Chief Judge of the Juvenile Court of Clayton County (Georgia) is one of the leading voices for reform of our juvenile justice system. Judge Teske regularly speaks nationally and has written extensively regarding the need for reform in our juvenile justice system based upon the positive measured results that have been achieved in his court over the last decade.
When the citizen’s of the county voted to fund a new courthouse to house the juvenile court; Judge Teske held a clear vision that architecture could and should support the principles and values of restorative justice. Further, he advanced the idea that the facility should be something other than a typical courthouse, and must be designed to foster involvement of family and community in the process of healing the youth remanded to the court.

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November 4th – 8th, 2014

I am very excited and honored to be attending this year’s AIA AAJ Conference in St. Louis as a 2014 scholar. I am delighted to have this opportunity of meeting and engaging with you all—experts, professionals, judges, professors, and students in the field of Architecture for Social Justice.


James Park is a M.S. Architecture Candidate in the School of Architecture at Georgia Institute of Technology and a research assistant in the Shape Computation Lab. His research interests are in the fields of computational geometry and algorithmic composition.
James has a considerable research experience in courthouse design as a member of CourtsWeb—a web-based research database of United States Courthouses—project development team. His most recent project focuses on the design of a grammar for Mies Van Der Rohe’s Dirksen Courthouse in Chicago.

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What started out as a plan review became a policy question when all the detailed distraction was removed. The plan represented an isolated battle. It was not linked to a municipal strategy of land use allocation, shelter capacity, development intensity, and economic performance. This made it one of a series of endless conflicts representing little progress. The risk was potential decline and sprawl beyond a single lifetime.


Incorporated land is a city’s capital. This low density residential proposal represents a low yield investment with a high degree of risk-associated with operating, maintenance, and improvement expense over time; even though it appears to be new revenue without expense at the moment. The question is relatively simple:

Does the city wish to invest its capital in a low-yield return that will reduce its average yield per acre when its average expense per acre will inevitably increase over time?

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Use passive, non-threatening design to modify behavior resulting in safer spaces. Study of Court-Targeted Acts of Violence indicates 406 incidents in the 2005-2012 study. Design guidelines to be discussed here include the US General Services Administration P-100 and Site Security Design Standards; New Zealand National Guidelines for Crime Prevention, and CPTED (Crime Prevention through Environmental Design).

GSA P-100 is about:

  • Physical Deterrence
  • Psychological Deterrence
  • Clear Expectations for Use
  • Surveillance

New Zealand National Guidelines for Crime Prevention is about:

  • Access – safe movement
  • Surveillance and sightlines
  • Layout – clear and logical orientation
  • Activity mix – eyes on the street
  • Sense of ownership – showing a space is cared for (broken window theory)
  • Quality environments – well-designed, well-managed, well-maintained
  • Physical protection

CPTED is about:

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This courthouse utilizes the unique split floor concept. All courtrooms have high ceilings with courtrooms on one side of the building being half-story lower than the courtrooms on the opposite side. This enables the chambers and office spaces to be stacked in order to achieve the efficient use of space while maintaining the high ceilings in the courtrooms.

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Courtrooms typically have high ceilings, and this is costly. Why didn’t we have balconies? Perhaps, balconies symbolize exclusion?

01 BOUNDARY: Ideas in the boundary between Public and Court Well; Hall vs Tiered Hall were explored. In fact, there are quite a few civic buildings, or assembly spaces utilizing balconies. You may want to look into Abingdon Town Hall; The Rolls, London, UK; Middlesex Sessions House, UK; Charlotte County Courthouse by Thomas Jefferson; Courthouse in Alexandria, VA; Old Montgomery County Courthouse, OH; Old Monroe County Courthouse, AL; Everrett M. Dirksen Courthouse has no balcony, but sketches by Mies van der Rohe show balcony options.

In the post 9-11 world, greater threat was perceived. There could be people throwing things into well; security issues are to be reviewed beyond the romantic aspect of balconies. Can this really work? Let’s look at the International Criminal Court in Netherlands with the glazed-in balcony. Inside the balcony, headsets allow visitors to hear the court proceedings in different language.  The advantage here is that people coming in and out of the courtroom and broadcasting within the balcony would not interrupt the courtroom’s activities. Perhaps, balconies in some courtrooms can be employed for media or overflow for seating.

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$2 billion since 1980; another $2+ billion is needed. Current path is unsustainable! In this strategic planning effort, Massachusetts had the unique opportunity looking into ways to make the court system more efficient and cost effective. Much of the success was made possible with the effort of the court looking inward themselves. The new position – Court Administrator – was added to the legislature. The Court Administrator plays the critical role in working with the court, so that the report would be something that is politically viable, something that can be approved by the legislature. When the strategic planning started 2 years ago, every member within the court system was invited into the process, and ultimately a 23-people committee with people from all levels within the Court System was formed. Based on the studies on the existing facilities and court users, the committee would distribute the draft reports for the court’s approval. Negotiation was done on the items that the Judges do not agree on. This is a shift of the paradigm where the Judges are the ones making the final decisions.

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Remember to visit the JFR online database at for the past and current JFR publication!

(Picture above from JFR Banquet at St. Louis tonight)
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Highlights from the AAJ Session “Justice for All: Embracing Diversity in Civic Design”

Tulare County – 62% Hispanic in Porterville,

See the attached screen shot showing the statistics on the city of Porterville. 62% of the population is Hispanic in Porterville. When language could be a barrier, way-finding becomes ever more important in the design. Also, the Court users may not have access to online forms, which accounts for the higher rate of people visiting the courthouse. With the high poverty rate, public transportation would be essential.

Eight concerns from the Judge

  1. Lot of people doing things in cash only
  2. Trend with having fewer attorneys and more self-represented litigants (over 90% in Family Law)
  3. Limited public transportation
  4. Security is the huge issue with the northern and southern gangs arriving at Porterville with confrontations and warfare. The facility needs to be safe, but friendly to the users at the same time.
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Prior to the Old Courthouse and Old Post Office tour yesterday, the AAJ Advisory Group (AG) and the AAJ Emerging Professional (EP) Scholarship Recipients gathered for a meet and greet / lunch. It was a wonderful way to meet everyone prior to the start of the conference.


Pictured from left to right: Linda Bernauer (AG), Amy Finlayson (EP), Jenny Li (EP) Richard Eimer (EP), Amber Alexander (EP), Lorenzo Lopez (AG), Heather Ligler (EP), James Park (EP), Liz Minnis (AG), Amy Phillips (AG), Lauren Petrakis (EP).

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If you are working on a courthouse project in any capacity and are not familiar with CourtsWeb, come see an informal live demo today from 5-6pm at the exhibitor reception.

CourtsWeb is the work of a multi-year collaboration between the GSA and the Shape Computation Lab at Georgia Tech. This research database of Federal Courthouses aims to capture the intricate relationships involved in the complex layers of these buildings through documentation, analysis and comparison. Our most recent case study is one of the 2014 Justice Facilities Review awarded projects, the San Diego US Courthouse Annex by Richard Meier and Partners Architects.
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The “Stakeholder Engagement in the Creation of Humane and Restorative Correctional Spaces” panel will take place tomorrow, Friday November 7th at 11am. The panel aims to highlight and encourage collaborative processes to engage stakeholders at all levels in creating spaces that promote restoration. I posted earlier this week focusing on one of the two projects that will be presented as part of the discussion, Designing Justice Designing Spaces, lead by Deanna Van Buren and Barb Toews. Today I was able to connect with Julie Stevens regarding the second project that will be presented, a case study of a multi-year collaboration between the

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For those who missed the tour at the Old Post Office today, see highlights below:

The Old Post Office, in the Second Empire architectural style, was ranked No. 6 at the National Historic Landmark. The sculpture above was the original moved from the exterior. Subsequently the exterior sculpture was replaced by a replica. The sculpture was done by Daniel Chester French, the same artist who did the sculpture in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.!

The new glass screen walls were added to increase the amount of rental square footage. This historic preservation made a great story in financing a project, which was made possible by the combination of mortgage, monetary gift, and tax credits.

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For those who could not make it to the tour today, see highlights below!

The original part of the courthouse, designed by Lavielle and Morton in the Federal Style, was completed in 1828. Due to the quickly increasing population in St. Louis, the building was subsequently turned into a courthouse having 4 wings with the east wing being where the original courthouse would be. The redesign was Greek Revival in style. The courthouse was abandoned in 1930; its court functions were moved to other new facilities in the city. In 1950 the building was taken over by the National Park Service.

Interior view at the Rotunda: The building was often utilized for public speeches and had great acoustics.
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At this year's conference, be sure to check out the session lead by Dan Rowe, of Treanor Architects.  The session will focus on the Johnson County Youth & Family Services building; this detention, treatment and education facility aims to combine hospitality and therapy in a minimum-security environment.  The session will be held on Thursday afternoon - be sure to stop by or check back on the AIA page for updates!

You can also check out more information of this project on Treanor Architects website, at:

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