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During the past 20 years, the nation has experienced a wave of courthouse construction that has no parallel in our country’s history and that shows no sign of abating. A remarkable consensus has emerged concerning certain features of the modern courthouse that drives the arrangement and design of courtrooms; the separation of circulation for prisoner, judiciary and public; the relationship of public and “private” space for judges and their staff; and other features. This consensus has produced beautiful designs. But is it based on reality, or are there forces at play that threaten to make our current solutions outdated in the not too distant future? It has been said that generals are always preparing to fight the last war. I would like to propose that architects and judges have been solving the courthouse demands of the last century, and therefore, the current planning and design solutions are no longer in tune with the realities of this century. An in-depth, honest examination of these emerging realities could lead to very different design solutions that are less costly, more functional and more responsive to current needs. What, for example, should be our design response to the issue of the vanishing jury trial? Research shows that the downward trend in jury trials encompasses municipal, county, state and federal systems, in both civil and criminal matters. The latest figures show that jury trials constitute less than 3% of all resolutions. This trend is acknowledged across the country. Task forces are at work at the local and national bar level trying to divine the reasons behind this trend, what to do about it and what it portends for the future of the justice equation. If the dwindling number of jury trials is a reality, what should the design response look like? One example of a possible new response is our firm’s design for a major county courthouse in the Midwest, in which we inserted new spaces specially designed to promote settlement activities into the zone behind the courtroom � the zone that heretofore had been reserved for judges’ chambers. The prevailing 20th century model reserves the judge’s zone behind the courtrooms as a serene sanctuary where judges, clerks and minions pound the books and plumb the pristine depths of legal thought. Not anymore. Our hard-charging Midwestern client, a judge, pointed out that he and his colleagues have crushing caseloads, that they are under tremendous pressure to clear their backlog and that they now see their role more as case managers than as case arbiters. Should we not provide the spaces to promote the new agenda that the modern age has thrust on us? This new agenda suggests that areas where parties can conference, bargain, mediate, make copies, schmooze and visit are more important to the pressing needs of modern case resolution. Spaces for settlement The courtroom is used for purposes other than jury trials, and the decorum needed for these hearings, arraignments and motions is best served by the dignity that only a courtroom can provide. But the current model lacks the spaces in which parties and attorneys can effectively and expeditiously settle cases in an orderly and dignified fashion. The image of the courtroom as the sole locus of litigation has mesmerized designers and judges alike. It is past time to acknowledge that the locus of litigation has moved to other locales in the courthouse. A new model for courthouse design suggests that the primary spaces be devoted to settlement activity and that courtrooms become fewer in number, more varied in size (to reflect their various functions) and, most important, no longer the exclusive domain of one judge. This new paradigm provides every judge with a dedicated settlement zone under the control of the judge’s staff but easily accessed by attorneys. These spaces will have daylight and views to the outside that promote normative behavior, reduce tensions and elevate the spirit. These spaces also will have modern technology, alcoves for informal one-on-one conversations that promote dealmaking, more formal spaces for group meetings, and work areas for outside counsel Judges will still have chambers, nearby and private, together with their clerks and support staff. Courtrooms will be close by, waiting to receive that 3% � and dwindling � of cases that must go to trial. Some say the jury trial must be preserved, indeed promoted, as the hallmark of our heritage; some say the best way to preserve it is to limit the courtroom time allotted to parties for presentation and summation. But caseloads continue to rise and become increasingly complex and the demand � principled and practical � to reduce backlogs has become permanent. The new paradigm will give the judge-as-arbiter a modern courtroom to share when the need arises. The money saved by building fewer courtrooms will more than pay for innovative settlement zones that enable the modern judge-as-manager to promote the order and dignity of the settlement process. Kenneth Ricci is the president of Ricci Greene Associates, a New York-based architectural firm. As both architect and advocate, he has devoted his 40-year career to the programming, planning and design of justice and correctional facilities throughout the country. He is a fellow of the American Institute of Architects.

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