Harris County Jury Plaza
A glass pavilion sitting on top of a downtown Houston green space serves as the entry to a new underground jury assembly space for Harris County, Texas. The 33,500-square-foot Jury Plaza is the centerpiece for the recently consolidated Harris County Courts complex. Located in the center of a nine-square-block campus, the facility is the initial point of contact for jurors serving five courthouse/judicial facilities. Four underground assembly rooms – each of which accommodates 250 people–feed civil, criminal, juvenile and family courts via secure pedestrian tunnels.
The building is 85% below-grade; the client wanted a facility that didn’t compete with the surrounding buildings—a simple “door in the ground.” The client also wanted it to be open and full of light, bringing daylight into the lower levels of the facility. Despite the underground nature of the facility, the glass pavilion creates a dramatic sense of openness so lobbies on both levels are full of light. The County also wanted to provide a comfortable, convenient and welcoming space for prospective jurors, without being opulent or frivolous. The assembly rooms are spacious and feature stadium-style theater seating, and the building offers a coffee shop where jurors can grab a snack and even plug in cell phones and laptops at recharging stations. Security meets functional needs but is efficient and does not detract from the sense of arrival.
A major goal was to design a building that has minimal impact on the surrounding buildings and green spaces – to preserve the site as a public park and create a lively plaza that is green, shady and as open as possible to offer a respite for pedestrians during the hot Texas summer. The site plays a key role in the greater urban design strategies of downtown Houston, linking historic green squares, bus routes, bike routes and the expanding green necklace of bayou park space. It is a nexus for bus routes on three adjoining streets. Juror drop-off and pick-up areas coordinate with traffic patterns, so flow is not impeded.
To facilitate secure passage of jurors in all weather, the facility connects to an existing adjoining sloping pedestrian tunnel which connects to the Criminal Justice Center, Civil Courthouse, Juvenile Justice Center, Family Law Center, County Jail and a parking garage. The site slopes substantially due to its proximity to Buffalo Bayou. Serious flood protection considerations were implemented due to that adjacency and recent flood events.
Flood doors separate the jury assembly area from the downtown pedestrian tunnel system. Mechanical equipment and an emergency generator are accommodated in a mezzanine level above the street level entry floor. This provides both flood protection and maximum transparency to the park-like site development at grade level.
Work environment was also an important consideration. County clerks and bailiffs spend significant time in the building and needed a space that was efficient, easy to understand and supported the clerks in their task of processing jurors.
An Honest Look at Downtown. CITE Magazine, Spring 2011
For Juror Comfort, Harris County Finds Some Assembly Required. Houston Chronicle, June 21, 2011
Don't hate the summons: Downtown, jury duty gears up to go glam. CultureMap, April 27, 2010
Houston Business Journal Landmark Award – Public Assembly
Society for American Registered Architects Merit Award