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COURTHOUSE ARCHITECTURE AND ORNAMENT

The American courthouse is the site where allegories of Justice are most likely to be found and a place with which every U.S. citizen probably has contact at some point in his or her life. Apart from the decorations that may adorn its exterior or interior, the courthouse itself, no matter how grand or humble, has had and continues to have an important symbolic function for the communities it serves. Historically, it has been an important gathering place—the location of celebrations, religious services, dances, and town meetings. It was, and is, a place for the storage and protection of official documents. In fact, in the early days of the nation it was the construction of a local courthouse that defined a settlement as a town. The courthouse was usually the largest and most prominent building in a town, positioned on a square at the city's center. The great American author, William Faulkner, wrote of the transformation that occurred when a courthouse was built: ". . . there was no town until there was a court house, and no court house until . . . the floorless lean-to rabbit-hutch housing the iron chest was reft from the log flank of the jail and transmogrified into a by-neo-Greek-out-of-Georgian-England edifice set in the center of what in time would become the town square."

The most important role of the courthouse, however, is as a house of justice, and as such, its architecture often conveys this primary function at a symbolic level. Edifices that looked to the architectural styles of antiquity, particularly those of Greece and Rome, superceded the first courthouse buildings, constructed during colonial times. The Gothic style, used in many other building types, was rejected as too ecclesiastical and therefore inappropriate for secular government buildings. The early American republic adopted the architectural vocabulary of ancient Greece as a way to connect the virtues of the first democracy with the ideals of a newly formed democratic nation. Thus, the Greek temple became the model for American "temples of Justice" and a visual metaphor for democracy.

Early courthouse architecture was local in character primarily because it was intended to please those who saw it most often. Yet courthouses were also signboards for the county, so using a particular architectural vocabulary became important in distinguishing a region from its surroundino neighbors. As a result, a diversity of styles proliferated, although stylistic trends prevailed at certain times and within certain regions. The directness of courthouse architecture as well as its openness and free-spirited design have been labeled "distinctly American." Interestingly, despite the courthouses role as a county centerpiece, county courthouse architecture was nearly always behind the times. And because the buildings were intended as focal ornaments of the towns in which they stood, their interest was often restricted to their exteriors.

Yet despite the vast differences in the simplicity or grandeur of courthouse interiors, the basic elements of the courtroom, the essential center of the American legal system, remain the same. Whether ornately decorated with paintings, marble, and burnished wood, or furnished with the bare essentials, every courtroom has the same contents: a clerks desk, tables for the attorneys and their clients, a witness stand, a jury box, and the judges bench. The judge is always the focus of the courtroom, and the judges bench is elevated to denote the dignity of his or her role and to designate symbolically his or her impartiality.

The earliest American courthouses date from the eighteenth century. In colonial times, builders employed an English Georgian vernacular style. At this time, churches and courthouses were barely distinguishable. After the Revolution, however, the new Americans increased their efforts to construct monumental courthouses suitable for the new republic. In their symbolic identification with the democracy of ancient Greece, the federal government adopted the Neoclassical style as a national style. American cities preferred the slightly different Greek revival.

A series of eclectic styles dominated the nineteenth century. Often, architects combined a pastiche of European influences, including Romanesque, Gothic, Italianate, and Beaux-Arts. Some cities, such as Philadelphia, whose town hall is also its courthouse, employed the Second Empire French Style of the1860s.Yet this was considered too metropolitan for many towns. Citizens of each county seat had their own idea of how they wished to represent themselves. Large cities, which also accommodated state and federal courthouses, tended to employ the monumental Neoclassical style on a grand scale, and these buildings included lush interiors. The Midwest and Texas, unfettered by a colonial history and eager to showcase their regional pride, often produced lavish courthouses in academic styles. Texas architecture was particularly brash, fueled by the wealth of the boom years of the late 1860s and early 1870s.The architect Henry Hobson Richardson, designer of the Allegheny County Courthouse in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, exerted a major influence on courthouse design in the late nineteenth century. His solid, Romanesque-influenced style was copied throughout the country, particularly in the old Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, courthouses everywhere were growing larger as
county business increased. Though still designed largely as public monuments, the emphasis was shifting as the needs of county office buildings expanded. Interestingly, the birth of the Chicago skyscraper, marking one of the innovations of Middle Western architecture, initially was rejected for courthouse use, as county officials continued to use European models. In the Far West, courthouses sought to suggest regional influences, such as the Spanish Missionary style in California, Arizona, and New Mexico. By the end of the 1920s, academic styles were losing their appeal and courthouses in cities were becoming public office buildings more and more. These changes in scale and function encouraged the modification of the written rule of "traditional" design. Finally, skyscrapers—of the New York rather than the Chicago variety—became a viable design option. Architects gave up their use of the Classical orders in favor of a more abstract vocabulary. While there were no new developments in courthouse design during the World War II years, courthouses constructed during the postwar economic recovery saw the influence of the European International style.

The rejection of ornament and the disappearance of the suggestion of the courthouses traditional public function in the second half of the twentieth century provoked a crisis in courthouse design that continues today. Frank Eloyd Wrights Marin County Civic Center of 1957—69 in San Rafael, California, attempted to answer the need for a new American architectural style that would address both the practical and symbolic needs of a modern justice system, but his innovations have not been copied.

 

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TITLE: Law and Legal Services at CitiMall Shopping Mall

Law Category: Prepaid Legal Services, Law , Legal, Attorney, Advice, Firm, Search, Attorneys, Lawyers, Power of Attorney, Durable, Forms

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Law Topics: Preapaid Legal Services, Law, Legal, Attorney, Advice, Law Firm, Search, attorneys, Legal Terms, Free legal documents, attorney, lawyer, lawyers, power of attorneys durable, forms