A European walk through Bordeaux 11
11 - Rogers’ Law Courts (1997),
Corner of Rue des Frères Bonie and Cours d’Albret.
Before this building, no new judicial structure had been built in Bordeaux for 150 years. A site became available at the rear of the old law courts (Thiac 1847), at what is a historical location for the city. The only condition was that the twin towers of the old Fort du Hâ, which date back to the 15th century, be left untouched. In the late 1980s, a competition was launched, and in November 1990 the project put forward by Bordeaux architect Jacques Hondelatte (1942-2002), awarded the Grand prix de l’architecture in 1998, was chosen. The theme was “the balance of justice.”
It comprised two triangular buildings adjoined to form an isosceles triangle, whose equal sides would run parallel to Cours d’Albret and Rue des Frères Bonie. The roofs did not slope at the same angle, with one touching the ground on the side of the Fort du Hâ, and the other heading gently towards Cours d’Albret. The facades were composed of glass with marble slabs, which made them translucent rather than transparent. The light did not arrive, divine, from a well of heaven, but simply through these facades from the street, and the gardens. The light of mankind for mankind.
As for the interior, Jacques Hondelatte wanted the building to be functional. Before taking part in the contest, he had spent an endless amount of time questioning lawyers, judges, and all those having to live and work in a courthouse on a daily basis. Inside, he designed complex but flexible routes, leading to areas designed more in the style of meeting rooms than courtrooms. In the words of Jean Nouvel, the “project was something of a miracle.” Unfortunately, the competition was cancelled. And when the Department of Justice launched a new competition in 1992, it imposed a strict rule: those having won a cancelled competition no longer had the right to compete.
The new competition was won by an English architect, Sir Richard Rogers. This time on the theme of “the transparency of justice.”
Built between 1994 and 1997, Bordeaux’s new law courts are a parallelepiped of glass, steel and wood. The copper-clad structure contains another, smaller glass parallelepiped, in which all the offices of the judges and the various departments are found. It is connected by bridges to a vast hall (corresponding to the kind of vast hall found traditionally on entering judicial buildings), in which the seven courtrooms are aligned in the form of pears, or cones, placed on concrete tripods, and which rise up to and through the roof. It is their zenithal opening that lets the light into the building. Richard Rogers’ “great glazed box” is intended as an architectural variation on the British adage “justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done.” The seven cones in which the court proceedings take place were created from wood. Whether required by Bordeaux or as a concession to … …