Courthouse: Courtroom  

by WBDG Staff

Updated: 
03-08-2018

Overview

Courtrooms are spaces used to conduct formal judicial proceedings. A courtroom is combined with Judicial Chambers and related support spaces such as Jury Suites to form a court/chamber "Set". A Courtroom in a Federal Courthouse includes:

  • U.S. Court of Appeals Courtrooms, plus Sound Locks (entry vestibules);
  • U.S. District Courtrooms, plus Short-term Exhibit Storage and Public Entrance Sound Locks;
  • U.S. Magistrate Courtrooms, plus Short-term Exhibit Storage and Public Entrance Sound Locks;
  • U.S. Bankruptcy Courtrooms, plus Short-term Exhibit Storage and Public Entrance Sound Locks.

Courtrooms are typically located on the upper floors of Courthouse building shell and core structures.

Historic County Courthouse in Chardon, Ohio
U.S. Court in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Governor George Deukmejian Courthouse in Los Angeles, CA

Historic County Courthouse in Chardon, Ohio

U.S. Court in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Governor George Deukmejian Courthouse in Los Angeles, California

Space Attributes

Key design concerns in courtrooms include separate circulation patterns for public, prisoner, and judiciary members; special attention to acoustic and lighting levels; and balancing information technology and A/V systems design with the need for highly aesthetic spaces. Typical features of courtroom space types include the list of applicable design objectives elements as outlined below. For a complete list and definitions of the design objectives within the context of whole building design, click on the titles below.

Courtroom utilizing multiple devices to present information
Using overhead screens and electronics in a courtroom

Technology continues to grow in use and importance within the courtroom including the ability to present information on multiple devices at the same time.

Accessible

Lifts for accessibility into the jury box in a courtroom
Lifts for accessibility into the jury box in a courtroom

Lifts for accessibility into the jury box in a courtroom.
Photos courtesy of Lift-U

Aesthetics

  • High ceilings: To enhance spatial quality and create a "civic" aesthetic appropriate for the proceedings and unobstructed courtroom interior views for all participants.
An aesthetically pleasing high ceiling and significant artwork define these two courtrooms

An aesthetically pleasing high ceiling and significant artwork define these two courtrooms

  • Custom millwork and furnishings: AWI Premium Grade architectural millwork, wainscot or full wall height.
The detailed millwork in two different courtrooms

The detailed millwork in two different courtrooms

  • Seating: Jury Seating is usually fixed based swiveling chairs with upholstered seats, and clear floor space to accommodate wheelchairs; and may be fitted with A/V monitors. Spectator seating is typically a wooden pew type, or may be upholstered auditorium type seating.
Jury seating will vary with the design and configuration of the courtroom

Jury seating will vary with the design and configuration of the courtroom

Functional / Operational

  • Occupancy group classification: is Business B-2, Assembly A-3, with sprinklered protected construction and GSA Acoustical Class A for critical noise-sensitive spaces.
Interior of a Supreme Court
Interior of a District Court

A Supreme Court interior.
Photo Credit: Coakley Williams Construction

A District Court interior.
Photo Credit: Coakley Williams Construction

Productive

  • Acoustical treatments such as upholstered walls or wall/ceiling panels. The Judge must be able to confer with counsel at the bench out of earshot of other participants.

  • Raised floors: A Judge's Bench has a 24" raised dais above the courtroom floor; Courtroom Deputy Clerk and Law Clerk stations have a 6" raised dais; Witness Stands have 12" raised dais; and Jury Boxes have a two-level raised platform at 6" and 12" above the courtroom floor. The public seating area and courtroom "well" have a raised floor—the preferred system for distribution of critical services (power, voice, data, and HVAC) in Courtroom space types. Raised floors for Courtrooms may have low-pressure high induction diffusers and be constructed of concrete filled metal pans at 24" modules with pedestal and stringer support, with intermediate support. Raised floors allow for adjustment of services to participant furnishings (tables, lecterns, seating) to accommodate line-of-sight and acoustical separation requirements.

  • Pressurized raised floor air supply with ceiling plenum.

  • AHUs are part of the building shell and core provisions; assume this space type requires a 25% increase in cooling capacity. Provide one AHU for every pair of courtrooms. Courtrooms to have separate zones for the well and public seating. Provide separate thermostat controls at the Judge's Bench and the Deputy Courtroom Clerk. The Grand Jury Hearing Room to be a separate zone from other spaces in the Grand Jury Suite.
Courtroom bench

This judge's bench is raised for optimal viewing across the courtroom and to create the sightlines and hierarchy necessary for the courtroom's proceedings.

Secure / Safe

  • Special finishes: Federal courtrooms typically require ballistics cladding integral with Judges' benches and other special security features per U.S. Marshals Service design standards.

  • Special security features: Emergency power is provided by generator(s) in building shell and core provisions. Provision for attack-resistant, short-term exhibit storage (safe) is required.

Sustainable

  • A high level of indoor air quality must be provided to courtroom spaces but systems should not interfere with acoustics or security measures.

  • Use non-toxic materials and finishes including those with recycled content, low maintenance, and regional availability.

  • A courtroom may have windows (regular or clerestory) or skylights to obtain the benefits of daylight but must be considered carefully in balance with the security requirements. Windows and skylights must be sealed, double- or triple-glazed, and equipped to control heat gain/loss, brightness, glare, noise, and dust infiltration. To prevent distraction and increase security, higher windowsills or clerestory windows or skylights are more desirable.

  • Incorporate energy efficient lighting.

Example Program

The following is a representative building program.

COURTROOMS

Description Per Set SF Each Small Courthouse Medium Courthouse Large Courthouse
Sr. District Courtrooms          
       Courtrooms 1 2,400 2,400 4,800 9,600
       Soundlock 1 80 80 160 320
       Short Term Exhibit
       Storage
1 50 50 0 0
    Ancillary Facilities          
    Jury Facilities          
District Courtrooms          
       Courtrooms 1 2,400 2,400 0 0
       Soundlock 1 80 80 0 0
       Short Term Exhibit
       Storage
1 50 50 0 0
    Ancillary Facilities          
    Jury Facilities          
Magistrate Courtroom
Facilities
         
       Courtrooms 1 1,800 1,800 0 0
       Soundlock 1 80 80 0 0
       Short Term Exhibit
       Storage
1 50 50 0 0
    Ancillary Facilities          
    Jury Facilities          
Bankruptcy Courtroom
Facilities
         
       Courtrooms 1 1,800 1,800 0 0
       Soundlock 1 80 80 0 0
       Short Term Exhibit
       Storage
1 50 50 0 0
    Ancillary Facilities          

Example Plans

The following diagrams are representative of typical courtroom plans.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Courtroom plans
Standard Courtroom (U.S. District)

U.S. Magistrate Judge Courtroom.  Click here to expand photo 

Standard Courtroom (U.S. District).  Click here to expand photo 

Grand jury courtroom

Grand Jury Courtroom.  Click here to expand photo 

Note: See the U.S. Courts Design Guide and other courts design resources for floor plan configurations typical of additional courtroom types.

Example Construction Criteria

For GSA, the unit costs for courtroom space types are based on the construction quality and design features in the following table . This information is based on GSA's benchmark interpretation and could be different for other owners.

Relevant Codes and Standards

The following agencies and organizations have developed codes and standards affecting the design of courtrooms. Note that the codes and standards are minimum requirements. Architects, engineers, and consultants should consider exceeding the applicable requirements whenever possible:

Additional Resources

WBDG

Building Types

Federal Courthouse

Space Types

Courthouse: Enhanced Office, Courthouse: Judicial Chamber, Hearing Room

Design Objectives

Accessible—Provide Equal Access and Flexibility, Aesthetics—Understanding the Language and Elements of Design, Functional / Operational—Account for Functional Needs, Functional / Operational—Ensure Appropriate Product/Systems Integration, Productive—Assure Reliable Systems and Spaces, Productive—Provide Comfortable Environments, Secure / Safe—Occupant Safety and Health

Project Management

Delivery Teams—Select Appropriate Design Professionals

Building Commissioning

Building Commissioning

Publications

Others

Case Study