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aj building study

Southampton Magistrates Courts, by Hampshire County Council Architecture and Design Services, is a rarity in court design with openness both in feel and in the use of daylight and natural ventilation

As you travel around the country, law courts are often to be found in prominent citycentre sites, looking as welcoming as a fortress. Despite the principle of law that you are innocent until proven guilty, the message to defendants appears to be that they are already halfway to prison. Let alone the unwelcoming messages being sent to witnesses and to all the others for whom courts are everyday workplaces - permanent staff, magistrates, police, care officers and more. So is security inevitably dominant and stultifying? Refreshingly, not.

Southampton Magistrates Courts provides an approachable openness, a building that can be enjoyed, even if for the minority, the visit can be very stressful. Indeed, the quality of the public atrium space, in particular, open to gardens on one side, is deliberately intended as a stress-reducer.

There is no 'trick'here but design ingenuity. Like all courts, the designers have to follow the strict White Book set of rules from the Lord Chancellor's Department (it was the Blue Book from the Home Office when this long, drawn-out job with a shifting brief began). Not surprisingly, the book is highly prescriptive. Some of the space allocation diagrams are proto-design layouts. Most of it can be talked about here, except for the custody area in the basement, which is run by a private security firm.

Court procedures are, of course, a key driver of design. These vary a lot, covering family, youth and adult courts of different levels of security. At one end of the scale, a family court may be conducting what can be a round-table discussion.At the other end of the scale is a court with a defendant's box enclosed with bulletproof glass. However serious the charge, most cases come to a magistrates court, if only for an initial hearing. (There is a growing use of video links for defendants in custody to make a virtual appearance at these first occasions. ) If court procedures with the multiple, separated circulation routes that they entail were not enough constraint, there is also the shape of the site. Long and narrow, it is what remains of a larger site after the adjacent crown courts were built a few years ago.Even within this curtilage, the building must keep back 15m from the roads on three sides, for security reasons, leaving an even narrower potential footprint.

The building layout is made legible, even at the detailed level, by its simple overall organisation. You approach the reception from one end on foot alongside the administrative offices. Beyond these, the building divides into two vertically - the court side and the public side, the latter wrapped in a north-facing curved atrium that sweeps down as roof and wall.

The public side is predominantly two open-sided floors within the atrium, alongside two levels of courts. These public floors look out onto a new garden and the domestic-scale street beyond. In these areas of uncertain waiting, the architecture is anything but oppressive - flooded with light, a minimal sense of enclosure. (As the section shows, a level of admin offices has been slipped in between these two public floors - section dd. ) Most of the time the public floors are divided into half-lengths, with a 2.5m-high opaque secure barrier. It is a noticeable contrast to the lack of opaque barriers generally, but allows the courts to be divided into four groups for different users and levels of security. The family and youth courts at upper level also have a separate entrance to the building through the garden area on the side of the atrium. This is below glazing level, which stops at the first floor, with the solid ground floor wall clad in 12mm steel plate.

On the two public floors, the walls adjacent to the courts are faced with small offices such as interview rooms which borrow light from the atrium. Here are the public court entrances. Court officials and magistrates have backstage entrances.

Defendants in custody come up from the lowest floor via separate stairs set between pairs of courts.

On the court side of the building, the courts themselves are largely enclosed boxes. This arrangement allows welcoming broad and daylit corridors with frequent opening windows on the south, used by magistrates and court staff. A lot of time is spent circulating. There are bays projecting out from this south wall, which on the two court levels house retiring rooms for magistrates to confer.

If so much daylighting (and summer natural ventilation) of the public side atrium is a rarity for court buildings, equally so is bringing a taste of the outdoors into the courtrooms, albeit high in the walls for security reasons, among others. The upper level courts are lit from two sides - by a panel of glazed blocks at the top of the atrium and by louvre-shaded opening windows to the south. For lower level courts, opening windows between the two levels of retiring rooms admit light and ventilation, which is ducted across the corridor into the courtrooms. Less striking in effect than in the upper courts, these windows nevertheless provide palpable outside contact. The windows have individual opening/closing switches in each courtroom, as do internal blinds which provide darkening for audiovisual presentations.

While these windows open, ventilation is predominantly by displacement (see Services). The rooftop 'chimneys' have a mixed servicing role as air outlets and services housings - this is not a totally stack-driven ventilation building.

All the courts are lined to about 2.5m high with American white oak acoustic panelling, with plaster above. Striking light fittings - providing downlight, uplight and emergency lighting - were designed by the architect, as was the carpet. Most of the building has raised floors with increasing use of IT in the courts. The more formal lower-level courts also have a 600mm dais.

Court furnishing varies from loose to fixed formal arrangements, all neatly detailed.

Two of the upper courts with loose furniture can be combined into one large meeting room. (There is also a large meeting room with self-servery for magistrates on the ground floor. ) This is a building of detailed arrangements matched to formal procedures and the separated circulation routes that these entail. But the building is not a victim of this prescriptive programme. Rather, it succeeds in providing organisational clarity and openness. While it may not be worth committing a crime just to savour the full user experience, it is evidently a building that provides the judicial system with a civilised, humane face.

Services Buro Happold The design of building services caters for two very different types of use.

It provides flexibility of use for the general public but also offers extremely secure facilities for defendants in custody. The services also need to be vandal-proof.

Primary services were routed via raised floors and, where appropriate, in high-security ceiling construction. Displacement ventilation is introduced into the courtrooms via raised floors and exhausted naturally at high level.

Additional cooling is provided for the magistrates'benches. For out-of-hours usage, background heating is provided via fan convectors. Fresh air plant is located in the floor plenum, which also contains the extensive cabling systems necessary for modern court facilities.

The holding cells need to function during a fire and security alert and have been provided with air-handling plant. This operates continuously and is served from the emergency generator.

To offset cold down-draughts in the atrium, trench heating and underfloor heating have been employed. Summertime natural ventilation is provided by linear louvres, which automatically open to promote summer cooling.

To fit in with the exposed concrete soffit, light fittings have been cast into the structure.This also reduces the risk of vandalism. To further assist this, all louvres and diffusers are screw-fixed to the fittings. The remainder of the ceiling-mounted equipment was also cast in, requiring a good level of coordination prior to the construction of the concrete frame.

The building also has a high level of security via CCTV, intruder and door access systems - all designed to segregate the staff, public and defendants, and provide monitoring of all risk areas.

Structure Buro Happold The building design achieves the client's requirement for three discrete areas.

Administrative offices are housed in a standard concrete frame, capped by steelwork framing to form the more open top floor area. Offices are clad in large steel panels that are hung at floor level and act as plate catenary panels, stiffened by a criss-cross of surface-mounted steel stiffeners.

The courts, magistrates'areas and the defendant holding areas are constructed within a simply-positioned jigsaw of reinforced concrete walls and floors. These are stacked as four sets of three rectilinear vertical boxes, between which are slots for staircases to custody areas. The staircase walls not only provide stability cores but also allow integration of the vertical service risers.The Home Office requires the structural frame to be able to resist bomb blast.The reinforced walls were viewed as providing stiff lateral elements to resist the longitudinal forces produced and also as tension-stiff diaphragms to absorb the blast energy across a facade face.

Atrium trusses are formed from tubular compression booms set in the plane of the curved cladding. Tension bars act compositely in resisting the various weather and other loadings. To hold the tension cables in position, tapered steel solid spigot struts were used which had to be discontinuous where they intersected with the boom to prevent cold bridging through the steel frame. To take the vertical compression force and provide this thermal break, a high-strength neoprene bearing pad was set with a cup joint.


The analysis is based on the tender sum (main development), per m 2of gross floor area


FOUNDATIONS/SLABS £66.70/m 2 Bored piles with ground beams and a RC suspended slab

SUPERSTRUCTURE FRAME £76.97/m 2 Tubular steel frame to north facade, RC columns and attached beams generally UPPER FLOORS £52.86/m 2Reinforced in situ concrete suspended slabs

ROOF AND ROOFLIGHTS £95.96/m 2 Part glazed/terne-coated steel to north facade; main court roofs terne-coated steel on RC suspended slab; flat roof lower roofs of single ply membrane on RC suspended slab

STAIRCASES £27.89/m 2 Reinforced in situ RC, tiled in public areas, with epoxy treatment in custodial areas

EXTERNAL WALLS £109.59/m 2 Rendered blockwork in cavity wall construction to south and east facade and at high level; metal plate cladding to entrance block, glazed faced blockwork at low level to north facade; below cladding and public hall steel and glass facade

WINDOWS AND EXTERNAL DOORS £56.17/m 2 Velfac aluminium/hardwood window system;

purpose-made, powder-coated screens and doors

INTERNAL WALLS AND PARTITIONS £114.33/m 2 Concrete blockwork and purpose-made, powdercoated steel, fully glazed screens in public areas

INTERNAL DOORS £69.03/m 2 Shapland and Petter doorsets with ironmongery by Higrade

INTERNAL FINISHES WALL FINISHES £51.74/m 2 Gypsum plaster throughout with fibre-reinforced plaster in custody areas; tiling to WCs and in some public spaces. Hardwood-faced acoustic panelling to courtrooms

FLOOR FINISHES £52.21/m 2 High-quality carpet tiling in courtrooms and offices, tiling in all public spaces, epoxy floor finish to custodial areas.Raised access floors throughout except to custodial areas

CEILING FINISHES £25.64/m 2 Painted concrete and plastered soffits generally, with robust suspended ceiling systems in custodial areas and in public WCs


FURNITURE £48.73/m 2 Purpose-made, hardwood-faced courtroom furniture; kitchen fittings; fixed furniture in custodial areas to Home Office Standards

SERVICES SERVICES SANITARY APPLIANCES, SERVICES EQUIPMENT £7.74/m 2 Proprietary ceramic and metal fittings throughout.

Robust fittings in custodial areas

DISPOSAL INSTALLATIONS £7.06/m 2 Rainwater disposal and internal drainage

WATER INSTALLATIONS £13.41/m 2 Mains water to storage tanks and fire hosereel tank.Cold water booster pump system throughout the building.

Hot water supply from two gas-fired hot water units with hot water recirculated throughout the building

SPACE HEATING AND AIR TREATMENT £94.22/m 2 Two gas-fired boilers to air handling units. Individual air handling to each courtroom.Public hall underfloor heating.Offices hot water radiators.Public hall exhaust fans which also for smoke exhaust.

BMS ELECTRICAL SERVICES £87.93/m 2 Sub-station within building; switchboards.Energy efficient lamps.Emergency lighting by uninterruptible power supply

LIFT INSTALLATIONS £31.92/m 2 Five electro-hydraulic lifts

PROTECTIVE INSTALLATIONS £29.56/m 2 Fire protection by addressable smoke detection system.Lightning conductors

COMMUNICATIONS INSTALLATIONS £45.11/m 2 Cabling for combined IT and telephone system.

Security by door access control system, intruder alarms and CCTV. Affray system from custody area to the gaolers'room and incident room from various locations


EXTERNAL WORKS LANDSCAPING, ANCILLARY BUILDINGS £160.81/m 2 Multi-level reinforced concrete car park; hard paved areas; water feature; boundary walling and gates.

Drainage and external services



TENDER DATE 20 November 1996

START ON SITE 27 May 1997



FORM OF CONTRACT JCT 80 with Quantities

TOTAL COST £9,907,917 plus separate phases (£1,091,000) related to car park and external works

CLIENT Lord Chancellor's Department with Hampshire and Isle of Wight Magistrates Courts Committee

ARCHITECT Hampshire County Council Architecture and Design Services

QUANTITY SURVEYOR Hampshire County Council Architecture and Design Services



LANDSCAPE Hampshire County Council/John Brookes Landscape Design

MAIN CONTRACTOR Norwest Holst Construction

SUBCONTRACTORS AND SUPPLIERS M&E subcontractor Lorne Stewart; structural steel fabricator Tube Engineering (Bristol); Terne-coated stainless steel standing seam roofing Kelsey Roofing Industries; frameless glazing, truss glazing CMI; electric hydraulic lifts Otis; courtroom wall panelling (Quadrillo) Lignoform Benken (Switzerland); internal doors Leaderflush Shapland; door ironmongery Higrade; raised floors Hewetson; carpetsMilliken; blinds to courthall Western Avery; general metalwork AW Jeffereys (Southampton); windows Velfac; courtroom fixed furniture TTS Shopfitters; single membrane flat roofing Sarnafil; courtroom light fittings Kalmar-MW


Hampshire County Council www. hants. gov. uk

Buro Happold www. burohappold. com

Norwest Holst Construction www. norwest-holst. co. uk

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