Designed by Denton Corker Marshall, the headquarters of the Ministry of Justice in the North West of England. The building, as described by the architects, is the biggest court complex to be built in the UK since the Royal Courts of Justice (opened in 1882). It houses 47 courtrooms and 75 consultation rooms, in addition to office and support space over 15 levels. Sustainability has been a major consideration for the architects from initial concept with natural ventilation to all areas contributing to its BREEAM rating of ‘Excellent’.
The working courts and offices are expressed as long rectilinear forms, articulated at each floor level, and projecting at each end of the building as a varied composition of solid and void. Viewed in side elevation, these elements collectively establish a dynamic and distinctive building profile; in end elevation, they form a powerful sculptural interplay of light and shade, depth and complexity. The architectural implication is that the courts are not forbidding or concealed, but open and accessible.
Photographs by Tim Griffith
The public domain is a glazed multi-level atrium with concourses serving all court levels and publicly accessed office areas. It is punctuated by meeting rooms and waiting areas, forming a complex of spaces within the void. From within this space it is possible to not only clearly comprehend the arrangement of the building, but also to relate outwards to the life of Manchester itself: a sense of expansiveness and connection, rather than enclosure and containment.
The working courts and offices establish the substantive form of the building. They are held between the solid plate of the structure and services spine, and the perforated plane of the judicial layer. These elements allow a reading or sense of individual courts, without specifically defining them. They are doubled skinned. The outer layer of clear planar glass defines a singular, simple volume. The inner layer defines the interior volume, softened by the overlay of glass, but allowing a more complex and detailed reading of material, color, pattern, glazing and surface, while retaining an overall sense of clarity of form.
The judicial interface is seen as the principal city scale signal of the Civil Justice Centre. The eastern façade will become the memorable ‘sign’ that clearly establishes this as the courts building and unlike any other building in the city.
A filtering screen partially overlays the long rectangular forms of the courts. The screen is a veil, revealing and concealing the functions behind it. It provides degrees of visual privacy, security, solar screening, contained views, ventilation and daylight penetration into the building. From a distance, it reads simultaneously as a single planar, unifying element, and a complex and varied composition of pattern, colour, texture and light and shade which will constantly vary depending on sun angle and weather conditions. This filtering veil presents a legible image that symbolises the complexity and intricacy of the law, yet reinforces completeness and consistency.
Completed in 2007, the Manchester Civil Justice Centre has won more than 20 international awards including the including the Jørn Utzon Award for International Architecture (Australian Institute of Architects), the UK’s Building Magazine Project of the Year Award and the Royal Institute of British Architects’ English Partnerships Sustainability Award 2008. It was also shortlisted for the prestigious RIBA Stirling Prize.
Project facts and credits
Client: Allied London Properties/UK Government Courts
Architect: Denton Corker Marshall
Architect's web site: www.dentoncorkermarshall.com