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Fitting a Courtroom into Existing Space by Limiting Functions & Activities

by Alan Ruby / May 8, 2014


In previous blogs, we examined two strategies to fit a courtroom into existing space that is too small to meet design standards: flexible furniture and fixtures in the courtroom and limiting user capacity. The third strategy, recommended only if the previous two strategies will not provide adequate space, is limiting the courtroom functions and activities that occur in the courtroom.  Courthouse planning is challenging when faced with limited space.

If available space is limited, an undersized courtroom that can handle selected, smaller proceedings may be the only construction option. While this may not be an ideal arrangement, there are many courthouses throughout the country that have such courtrooms. Some jurisdictions even prefer to have courtrooms designed for specific types of proceedings (e.g., different size courtrooms for criminal, civil, and juvenile proceedings).

Courtroom Functions Restricted by Space

When space is limited, the courtroom functions become limited. For example, if there is insufficient room in the well area to construct a full jury box for criminal proceedings, constructing a smaller jury box may enable the courtroom to be used for civil proceedings. If the space is too limited to construct a jury box at all, the courtroom functions could be limited to proceedings that do not require a jury.Courtroom Functions - Fentress Incorporated The photo presents a courtroom in Georgia where the narrow width of the courtroom precluded a jury box and limits the use of the courtroom to preliminary proceedings.

Though the layout may not be ideal or functional for many proceedings, undersized courtrooms can be used in a constructive fashion. The most undersized courtroom I have seen featured a judge’s bench, two small tables for counsel, and two rows of spectator seating. While the design standard for courtrooms in this jurisdiction was 1,700 sq.ft., this courtroom was approximately 300 sq.ft. However, it was the only space available in a detention facility for a judge to conduct proceedings with detainees. It was not ideal, but – despite the small space – it served a vital purpose. The space was used multiple times a week and prevented the need (and expense) to transport many detainees outside of the detention facility for preliminary hearings.

Every courtroom, regardless of size, can have a purpose.

Tags: Courthouse Planning

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Alan Ruby

Alan Ruby

Alan Ruby joined Fentress in 2002 and is one of the company's senior architects. He combines an extensive knowledge of architecture and the built environment with analytical skills. Alan is an avid scuba diver and cyclist, and a long-time collector of abstract art.