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The Walled City Family Law Courts

Part 2 Project 2008
Karol Dempsey
Queen's University Belfast, UK
An inscription above the Londonderry Courthouse translates as “This is the eye of justice that sees all things”.

This thesis proposal presents a Family Law Courts building in Derry City which challenges the authoritarian hierarchies of traditional law court buildings and explores decorum appropriate to express the sanctity of family preservation.

With the recognition of specific needs of youth and family law cases within the justice system comes the possibility to develop a building typology which reassesses the hierarchy of accused, judiciary and public. It is the modern attitudes toward family preservation and mediation between youth and law which should be addressed in a Family Law Court.

In its essence the thesis aims at producing a response that satisfies the evolving programmatic needs of family law legislation while producing an interpretation of regional architecture that is legible to everyday users.

Accepting localised building typologies and regional culture over personal style rejects the prejudice of what a Family Law Court should look like. Instead it opens the possibilities to provide a critical evaluation of existing forms and typologies that define a city, not just a geographical location but a place, with associated history and culture.

This approach is developed during the design thesis as a method to create an appropriate intervention in the city that forms a backdrop to everyday life, specifically to remind the city of the simple values of the sanctity of family.

Karol Dempsey


Karol has created a synergy between public and private, between domestic and municipal, between social organisation and social intervention – unique and successful to this building typology in this instance. A traditionally municipal building type is given back to the public, encouraging public use of the underdeveloped historic quarter within the city walls. Derry, Northern Ireland, a defensive city packed with historical defensive architecture provided a challenging backdrop to centre stage a new approach - a challenge that has been met head on by Karol.

The idea of creating a ‘family’ law space, one where intimacy and privacy are crucial in maintaining its smooth operation is no easy task. This student has created a light and airy space, with deep connotations to local domestic architecture, somewhat of a contradiction in theory, but in reality the space created sits in harmony with its palatial neighbours. By clever use of materials traditionally hard and sterile spaces for the legal profession are brought to life with local timber, and exposed concrete, a tactile tapestry ready for its conversation with a passerby.

This is the idea of building a real space, for real people.

Tutor(s)
Prof Joe Fitzgerald
Mr Alan Jones
Mr Robert Jamison
2008
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