The Antwerp’s New Law Courts, designed by Stirk Harbour + Partners, was conceived both as a gateway to the city and as a link across the motorway between the city centre and the Schelde River. It aims to reconnect the urban tissue, broken by a massive motorway interchange that cuts off the boulevard that leads into the city. It houses eight distinct civil and criminal courts and includes 36 courtrooms plus offices, chambers for judges and lawyers, library and cafeteria, with a great public hall linking six radiating wings of accommodation. This space is capped by a striking roof structure, crystalline in form, linking the paraboloid roofs that cover the courtrooms.
The creative backbone of the project is the introduction of natural lighting from above. Highly transparent clear-glazed atria, lifts and stairwells provide instant legibility and respond to the initial brief to make the workings of justice more transparent. Colored steel work also acts as an orientating device that is legible both in the broader context of the city and from within the building. The building, straddling a major highway, looks out to a large area of open land. The design creates ‘fingers’ of landscaped parkland which extend right into the heart of the building.
When designing the new Law Courts building, RRP also focused a great deal of attention on the environmental aspects of this project and on the effective use of energy. Natural light is used to optimum effect, natural ventilation is supplemented by low-velocity ventilation for the hearing rooms and rainwater is recycled. The environmental strategy is based on utilizing the thermal mass of the pre-cast concrete frame, the reduction of solar gain by high performance glazing and the use of external glazed louvres.