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Vision to Reality: A Path to Innovative Courthouse Planning

by Trish Lomonosov / May 8, 2024

As a court planner, I’ve visited many courthouses that are relics from a prior era that no longer meet the court's needs today. I’ve also toured a smaller number of newer courthouses designed to adapt and evolve as the court and community's needs change. In this article, I’ll discuss a few innovative approaches for planning courthouses with an eye to the future.

Future Courthouse Planning

Courthouse planning is poised to undergo a significant transformation in the coming years, driven by the need for flexible spaces, technology advancements, and a growing emphasis on sustainability. Incorporating flexibility and sustainability into the design will help create resilient courthouses that serve both courts and community needs for future generations.

Let’s look at a few approaches for planning courthouses that will withstand the test of time.

Adaptive Spaces for Evolving Needs  

Courthouses are more than just buildings; they're symbols of justice and community. However, as communities change, so do their needs. To address this, it’s key to provide adaptive spaces that can be repurposed to meet evolving demands. 

For instance, a courtroom today might need to accommodate traditional court proceedings, but tomorrow, it could serve as a venue for alternative dispute resolution, re-entry court, mental health proceedings, or community meetings. 

In addition, lobbies can often be “dead space” within a courthouse; however, I’ve visited several courthouses where the lobby is designed so that the court, local bar, or other community groups can host special events.

Innovative Courthouse Planning (1)Courthouse lobby that could double as special event space

By incorporating modular designs, movable partitions, and flexible furniture, courthouses can seamlessly transition between various functions without requiring extensive renovations or expansions. 

Additionally, providing multi-purpose spaces in a courthouse encourages community engagement and fosters a sense of inclusivity. These spaces can host educational programs, legal clinics, or other events, thereby maximizing the courthouse's utility and relevance to the community it serves.

Technology Integration 

The digital age has revolutionized the way we interact with information and each other. Courthouses must maximize technology to enhance efficiency and accessibility for all users. 

A courthouse that meets today’s needs and those long into the future has robust technology integration, including digital case management systems, remote access capabilities for meetings and proceedings, electronic courtroom presentation, and electronic filing capability. 

These technologies streamline courthouse operations and promote greater access to justice for individuals facing barriers such as geographic distance or physical disabilities. Technology integration should also be flexible to ensure that future advancements can be accommodated without undergoing significant structural changes.

Innovative Courthouse Planning (2)Courtroom presentation technology


Sustainability is no longer a mere buzzword; it's a necessity for the future of our planet. Courthouse planning should prioritize sustainability to reduce environmental impact and ensure long-term viability. 

Courthouse design should incorporate sustainable features such as energy-efficient HVAC systems, renewable energy sources like solar panels, green building materials, and biophilia. Green walls, which feature a variety of plants and vegetation, have become prominent designs in many buildings. Why not provide green walls in courthouses to help purify the air and reduce noise levels?

Innovative Courthouse Planning (3)Green wall

Initiatives that promote sustainability lower operating costs and demonstrate a commitment to environmental stewardship. Furthermore, sustainable courthouses contribute to healthier indoor environments, benefiting the wellness of the occupants. By investing in sustainability today, courthouses can mitigate environmental impacts and ensure their viability long into the future.

Future-Proof Justice

Planning for courthouses that can endure for decades is a best practice in courthouse design.  I am often asked how far a court should plan into the future. The typical answer is 20 to 30 years because it is hard to envision how the world will operate beyond that. However, the average age of courthouses in the U.S. is over 75 years. Focusing on adaptability can help us plan for the hundred-year courthouse, even if we can’t see that far into the future.

Court planners, architectural firms, and court managers should collaborate on innovative ways to provide adaptive spaces, integrate technology, and incorporate sustainability into courthouse renovation, expansion, or new construction projects. This approach will ensure that courthouses remain relevant and purposeful, future-proofing justice for future generations.

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Tags: Courthouse Planning

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Trish Lomonosov

Trish Lomonosov

Trish is a senior analyst/planning consultant for Fentress. She holds an M.S. in criminal justice and is certified by the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP). She is also a certified Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) practitioner. Her personal interests include hiking, kayaking, and spending time with her two daughters.