Volumes converge in Supreme Court concept by Jorge Yulo

October 19, 2017



Nick Ramos

The New Supreme Court design concept by Jorge Yulo Architects & Associates is shortlisted in the World Architecture Festival 2017 under the Civic – Future Projects category.

Throughout history, Supreme Court buildings have been associated with certain styles of architecture due in most part for the values they seem to embody such as wisdom, democracy, and fairness. As such, these buildings tend to be monumental, trabeated, and formally composed. For his competition entry, Jorge Yulo explored the communicative possibilities of architectural form to create a contemporary design where these values are communicated by means of a democratizing process of subjective experience.

This proposal allows for public engagement while maintaining a level of security that likewise addresses contemporary safety concerns. The structure does not have a singular objective form but is rather a composition of structural members that collectively create an optical illusion. The individual building components are atypical yet are seemingly symmetrical when composed together. The design strategy capitalizes on juxtaposing opposite polarizing concepts to compose a balanced equilibrium implying non-partiality, equality and fairness. The result is an enigmatic assemblage endowed with a dynamic sense of purpose.

Classically-inspired Supreme Court buildings worldwide project an acropolitan and commanding image to convey a declaration of influence, immovability, and authority. In contrast, this concept proposes a structure with visual and physical semi-permeable membranes for walls to convey transparency and accountability.

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The structure will be made of a series of repetitive vertical slats for an overall sense of transparency. These parallel lines will dictate the form of the structure. Similar to what happens when we experience optical illusions, an individual viewer’s cognitive system will associate the cluster of similar looking elements to perceive a singular object. The active participation of each viewer to internally complete the form of the building from the same stimuli, as opposed to simply receiving the form from a readily perceivable image, is reflective of the participatory nature of democracy.

Instead of one large building the proposal is designed with five major segments that converge into a spherical plaza. This facilitates grouping different functions and their adjacencies, so that access by different users can be filtered with greater ease. The spaces and orientations are designed for different levels of engagement with the public: from the casual visitor, organized tours, lawyers, students, liaisons transacting with the different offices, to the different employees, judges and dignitaries. The spherical void will be the plaza collectively enclosed by a portion of each of the different buildings, where the public can see a portion of each department.

Looking up from the plaza

The public space is situated on the north side of the site ensuring that most of the open space will be in shade all day. The slats at the south side of the building are significantly deeper than east and west facing slats, as they function as brise soleil against the southern solar path. The ground level openings to the sphere create a Venturi Effect that draws air into the sphere picks up the temperature of the water at the center and distributes the cooler temperature throughout the space. The hot air is allowed to escape through the oculus above. The enclosed spaces that require mechanized cooling will be compartmentalized into microclimates adjacent to the passively cooled spaces.

En banc session hall

The vertical slats that suggest the building’s form are repeated in specific intervals creating a moiré pattern giving the building the illusion of surface motion. The notion of movement imbues the Supreme Court with a sense of life, pronouncing its agency in the analysis of human issues and the carrying out of justice.

Jorge Yulo explores a new dimension of public engagement in a proposal as hermetic as it is magisterial. The crisp, brooding exterior bears the weight of history without adherence to any established stylistic lexicon. Instead, it allows for connections to be made with each visitor on a distinctly human level in very much the same way that music can overtake words to communicate more directly. The form evokes permanence and is yet able to portray the expectations of, hopes, and contradictions of its own time. It is an architecture that respects humankind by not talking down to it. Jorge Yulo delivers a satisfying rebalancing of the relationship between the citizenry and the system of justice forged to protect it. 

Images courtesy of Jorge Yulo Architects & Associates

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