The recently published Retrospective of Courthouse Design 2010-2020 by the National Center for State Courts includes Finegold Alexander’s Lowell Justice Center. The NCSC publication is dedicated solely to the architecture of courthouses, highlighting a collection of major courthouse trends of the decade.
The Lowell Justice Center is modern in vision while rooted in the rich history of Lowell. The approach along the historic Hamilton Canal leads to an expansive plaza and grand public entry. Timeless, locally-sourced materials create a strong civic presence, transparent and open, welcoming the greater community.
The building sits on a 3.2-acre site at the northern edge of the Hamilton Canal Innovation District within the Lowell National Historic Park. This 7-story, 265,000-square-foot building contains 17 courtrooms across five court divisions. It is universally accessible, with all points accessible via the same path. The commuter rail and bus depot provide public transportation a short distance away, public parking is nearby, and bike racks are on-site.
The site constraints facilitated a legible solution to wayfinding and functional adjacencies. The courthouse is a traditional bar scheme, bent at 90 degrees in the middle. It is organized with a rational stacking of departments with jury pool room, arraignment courtroom and District Courts located on the lower floors.
A significant achievement is the provision of abundant natural light and views while also delivering a high-performance building. Site orientation, massing, space planning and carefully selected materials and building systems ensured a LEED Platinum certification. The Lowell Justice Center is the first state courthouse in the Nation to achieve this. The entry lobby, stairwells, circulation areas, transaction areas, jury deliberation suites, and most courtrooms feature direct natural light while interior courtrooms provide borrowed light through clerestory windows located behind judge’s benches.
The courtroom building volume is clad in locally-sourced granite with punched windows, designed in response to the surrounding mill buildings. A two-story art glass installation designed by artist Martin Donlin in the entry lobby greets visitors with symbols of justice and imagery of Lowell’s historic “mill girls” and the city’s new industries. Quotations and other text speak to the value of justice in the four major languages spoken by the Lowell community.
This consolidation of four different court facilitates into a justice center fulfills a goal of the court’s masterplan with a design that balances functionality, maintainability, accessibility, security and sustainability. It is a dignified, elegant contribution to a sustainable future for the people of Lowell and generations to come.
The NCSC piece breaks down Notable Project Features, highlighting the strategic design of everything from the location of transaction areas to the placement of courtrooms depending on activity and privacy. Additionally, with the courthouse being the first in the country to achieve the first LEED Platinum certification, the excerpt also outlines the distinct design choices that made the achievement possible.
We are grateful to have been included alongside other remarkable courthouses in the 2010-2020 Retrospective. Read more here on page 145!