HMC Architects design a justice facility fully immersed in nature
As an emotional response to the environment and its interaction with this sophisticated project type, the Nevada City Courthouse design was driven by simplicity in act, contrast in material and the clarity of staging this unique community’s active role in the facility. Orientation and location of the courthouse were influenced by these drivers, respecting the forest surroundings and letting the actions within the courthouse inform materials, shape and volume.
The courthouse is placed within the forest, glowing and filtering light through the natural fabric of the trees. A 'lantern of justice', the building radiates through the branches, inviting the public in. Materials were chosen based on the purpose and guiding principles of the courthouse. Glass represents the transparency of government and open public space; stone symbolises the strong and secure nature of the courthouse, as well as solid protection and upholding of the law; warm and tactile, wood expresses the welcoming spirit that embraces the community with its judicial purpose. All three elements - glass, stone and wood - are embodied as building mass and material layer to establish a purpose of place and clarity.
With context in mind, the team leveraged natural conditions to improve energy efficiency. The typical advantages of the sun and solar gain are expressed, but their impact is limited by the filtered forest and extreme mountain climate. As a result, the team looked to the earth to utilise the natural geo-thermal conditions nearby. The courthouse taps into this resource and brings it to the core of the building, capturing and then radiating heat from its thick interior walls and using the void between it and its double layered exterior glazing to create a consistent yet controllable movement of air throughout the complex. The resulting courthouse is truly powerful, innovative and respectful of its surroundings.