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Macro-Building as Micro-City: A New Paris Courthouse

Part 2 Project 2008
John Milligan
Simon Knight
University of Liverpool Liverpool UK
The main objectives of our thesis were to challenge our architectural abilities by designing a large building and to investigate the issues that large buildings pose; such
as monumentality, the fragmentation or objectification of the building, integration into the existing urban fabric, and the clarity of the building and its function.

Our initial step was to find a brief for a large civic building and to use it as a vehicle in which to explore the issues described above. Our method was a systematic and
rational approach, working through initial site analysis, through to various studies including precedents, typology, massing, structure and urban forms. All of these rigorous
methods would run in parallel with and inform the design work, which would be more intuitive. Through a process of testing ideas and designs, by looking at extremes
and opposite conditions, we were able to make rational and informed decisions on aspects of the design.

The Brief we found requested the design of a courthouse for the Tribunal de Grande Instance (TGI) which would serve as the main court for the city of Paris. The buildings purpose is to hear civil and criminal matters arising in the Paris area and the accommodation requirements are considerable, as it needs 100,000 square metres of floor space and sees 6000 people through its doors everyday. The site is in the 13th arrondissement and is dominated by an old railway goods depot designed by Eugene Freyssinet,.

Along with issues such as the appropriate architectural language for a building dealing with justice, the handling of an existing structure on a tight site and the usual constraints of any brief, the main topic that jumped out was the requirement for a 24hr building coupled with a highly complex program of accommodation. This led to the analogy of a micro-city, containing many different buildings and varied public and private spaces. This analogy enabled us to deal with the amount of accommodation in a manageable and rational way. It also gave us a concept that would inform how the building would address its urban context but also its internal configuration.

John Milligan
Simon Knight

Situated behind the French national library, the proposal for the new courthouse in Paris challenged the authors principally on three fundamental architectural issues: firstly that of scale and how to design and plan a very large urban building, secondly the problem of how to integrate within their design an existing structure of significant importance for the site’s history and thirdly the question as to whether, and if so, how a public function such as a law courts can be explicitly expressed by an architecture.
The project thus deals with and masters a multitude of problems in different scales. From that of the state and its representation through architecture - with direct implications for urban planning in a tightly knit and yet fragmented district - to the detailed design and material expression of the “grand hall” (through which every member of the public enters), the court rooms and the more intimate and private spaces in the building.
A detailed analysis of buildings of a similar scale and importance within the city of Paris was contrasted by a study of the spatial relationships required within the context of an extremely complex programme. Simultaneously the question of a theme or character for the building, resulting on the conceptual metaphor of the city within the city, was rigorously pursued.
The qualities of the project as a thesis are imbedded both in the resulting building and in the design methodology applied. An intelligent understanding of context and programme paired with the critical analysis of appropriate typological precedents and their transformation into an independent and original piece of work, make this thesis into a great achievement for its authors.

Mr Torsten Schmiedeknecht
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