Examining the societal values embedded within architecture for the judiciary, The Architectural League and The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture of the Cooper Union hosted a conversation between architect Henry Cobb and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer on December 18, in New York City.
Brought together by the task of designing the John Joseph Moakley Courthouse on Fan Pier at the edge of Boston’s Harbor, Cobb and Justice Breyer discussed their collaboration as architect and client, while providing reflections on the civic importance of the design of courthouses.
Cobb and his New York–based firm, Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, were commissioned to design the federal courthouse in 1991, while Justice Breyer–who was then the Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit–served as the lead client for the project. Their concerted engagement in the project propelled a sustained discourse on the objectives of design for the judiciary.
Addressing their shared ambitions for the building, Cobb and Justice Breyer detailed how to convey the critical message about the role of the judiciary in a democratic society. Positing the notion that the design of the courthouse should reflect the needs of the public, the discussion detailed their agenda to create a “people’s court,” that is equally open to all.
The John Joseph Moakley Courthouse opened in 1998 and went on to win a Presidential Design Award in 2000, redefining the role of the courthouse as a beneficial and accessible place.