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Towers of Justice

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Copper-clad towers create a symbol of 21st century judiciary

Towers of Justice

The $230 million Staten Island Courthouse in St. George is the first freestanding courthouse on Staten Island, N.Y., in 84 years. The five-story, 184,000-square-foot building sits on a hilltop site overlooking New York Harbor, and houses the New York Supreme civil and criminal courts, lower criminal court and related agencies. Expected to achieve LEED Silver certification, the state-of-the-art facility features 14 courtrooms, new, spacious jury deliberation rooms, attorney-client conference rooms and a large central jury area for residents called for jury duty.

Susan T. Rodriguez, design partner at Ennead Architects, New York City, says the goal was to create a distinctive expression of the judiciary for the 21st century. "The design of this new civic center-both building and landscape-became the fusion of history, community, civic space, immigration, judicial symbolism and public service on a site uniquely situated overlooking New York Harbor," she says. "The intersection of these essential issues drove the design and set the stage for developing a unified approach that would not only commemorate the historic site, modernize the judicial experience, but would extend the legacy and importance of the borough's public realm inspired by two 19th century design leaders, Frederick Law Olmsted and John Merven Carrere who made Staten Island their home."

The site, which transformed an existing 4-acre municipal parking lot, was discovered to be a burial ground from a 19th century quarantine hospital. The new urban center that was created extends the civic network of buildings to fill what Rodriguez says had been for many years a significant void in the urban fabric of St. George. And, the burial ground is commemorated with the design of a Memorial Green-a civic landscape framed by the new courthouse, borough hall, the New York Public Library and the Staten Island Theater.

The courthouse honors the material character and scale of the surrounding neighborhood and community, Rodriguez says, helping to revitalize St. George with a new parking structure, public open space and engagement with the historic St. George Theater and Library. "The design capitalizes on the siting of the building to maximize views of New York Harbor and the Verrazano Narrows Bridge," she explains. "Embedded into Staten Island's skyline, the courthouse emerges from its urban waterfront setting."

Responding to the dual contexts, the courthouse provides two distinct faces. Facing east toward the harbor are the building's primary public areas, including the lobby and jury assembly spaces. Its western façade is a denser composition made up of precast, copper and glass in response to the afternoon light.

Connecting with the traditional copper standing seam roof and detailing on the borough hall and public library, the four, copper-clad "towers of justice," catch the morning light, acting as a beacon for those who arrive by ferry. The ordering of the towers responds to the rigorous organization of the courts within, Rodriguez says, with the towers set inboard of the transparent glass curtainwall, which provides a connecting corridor for public circulation, allowing natural light into the building's public spaces and offering views of the harbor beyond.

St. George is designated a Historic District and drives its architectural character principally from its residential fabric, a mix of Queen Anne, Shingle Style, Colonial Revival and Tudor. "The new courthouse serves to complete the frame while aspiring to be a symbol of the judiciary for the 21st century reinforcing connections to the community, heightening the awareness of the judicial process in this unique civic setting and dignifying jury service by improving the transparency and legibility of the workings of the courts-the creation of the ultimate urban intersection as a new civic space and striking expression of the judiciary on the St. George skyline," Rodriguez adds.


Staten Island Courthouse, St. George, Staten Island, N.Y.
2017 North American Copper in Architecture Award for Wall Cladding
Owner: Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY)
Architect: Ennead Architects, New York City,
General contractor: Delric Construction, North Haledon, N.J.,
Construction manager: Jacobs, New York City,
Curtainwall consultant: Heintges & Associates, New York City,
Sustainable design: Vidaris, New York City,
Structural engineer: Leslie E. Robertson Associates (LERA), New York City,
Steel fabricator/detailer: Owen Steel Co. Inc., Columbia, S.C.,
Copper plate system: POHL Inc. of America, West Valley City, Utah,
Standing and flat seam copper sheets: Long Island Tinsmith Supply Corp. (LITSCO), Glendale, N.Y., and S & J Sheet Metal Inc., Bronx, N.Y.,
Photo: Jeff Goldberg