Tribunal de Grande Instance
Richard Rogers Partnership

August 19, 2001 /

Bordeaux, France

tribunal_de_grande_instance_1.jpgPhoto: Christian Richters

The competition winning entry for the Tribunal de Grande Instance (the complex of law courts) is situated in the heart of the historic core of Bordeaux, near the Cathedral and Town Hall.

The building is an assemblage of distinct legible elements. The ways in which the Law Courts function as an institution are made visible and, in keeping with this philosophy, the methods of construction are equally clearly expressed. Junctions between materials are treated in such a way as to articulate the fabrication and sequences of erection.

Facing the Cathedral, the new building's silhouette echoes the latter's Gothic profile, its materials sympathetic to those of surrounding buildings. Public access to the lawcourt building is via a grand stairway over a water pool, leading to the piano mobile of the Salle des Pas Perdus, the large glazed public ambulatory linking the courtrooms. The seven courtrooms are tapering in section and rounded in plan, their forms echoing the mass of the adjoining medieval towers.

Photo: Christian Richters
Photo: Christian Richters
The courts sit on a stone-clad plinth and are supported by concrete bases that echo the fluid forms of the timber-clad volumes above. A light-weight steel roof structure supports an undulating copper-clad roof plane. The shape of the courtrooms encourages the natural ventilation of these focused and protected spaces.

Air at low velocity is provided at the occupied base of the volume and making use of the stack-effect, evacuates through openings in the lee of the top of the court as it protrudes through the roof. A large ocular roof-light provides controlled natural daylight to the space. A variety of perforations providing acoustic absorption and reflection are tuned to ensure the clarity of the spoken-word.

tribunal_de_grande_instance_4.jpgPhoto: Christian Richters

An understated, modular, anodized aluminum facade wraps around the support accommodation block, tempered by a variety of brise-soleils and set-backs. The concrete floor-plates support the flexible office accommodation and are connected by vertical cores organized in three strips.

Glass floors to the lifts, bridges and walkways that animate the atrium void allow natural light to permeate deep into the building. Outside, flame-finished limestone floors run right across the site footprint and into the building, providing strong visual links between the interior and exterior areas of public domain.

Photo: Christian Richters

An atrium divides the public space from the five-storey wing housing offices for the judges, magistrates and their support staff, visually the boundary between "served" and "server". Judges enter the courtrooms via open bridges across the atrium from their offices, while members of the public use the gallery at the front of the Salle des Pas Perdus. The legibility of vertical circulation is a direct expression of the various judicial processes housed within the building.

Photo: Christian Richters

The wooden courtrooms combine high-tech with traditional construction methods. In order to shape the laminated timber beam structure, the geometry of the courts was reduced to a simple mathematical equation. Recent developments in computerized machining were essential to the production of the complex curves and acoustic perforation of the internal maple-veneered panels.

This is in contrast to the hand-crafted exterior of the courts clad with western red cedar strips positioned by carpenter-artisans to marry the sweep of the skin of the envelope.

Photo: Christian Richters

A concern for energy-efficient design informed all of the key decisions for the project. The orientation of the building on the site shields the vulnerable glazed spaces from unwanted insulation while maximizing the use of daylight. The office accommodation running along the Cours Albret also filters the noise from this busy thoroughfare.

The atrium that contains the Salle des Pas Perdus functions as a buffer to the noise and poor air quality of the surrounding urban environment. This stable reservoir of clean, tempered air is supplied via a specially-designed waterfall which cools and humidifies it. The water pool acts as a heat-sink and air passes through a heat-exchanger extracting air from the offices. The cycle is completed as supply air from the atrium is drawn into the office accommodation through the hollow ribs in the floor structure, making maximum use the thermal mass of the concrete and providing summer night-time cooling.

Photo courtesy Richard Rogers PartnershipUnder construction 1999
Photo courtesy Richard Rogers PartnershipModel studies
Drawing courtesy Richard Rogers PartnershipPlan

Facts about Tribunal de Grande Instance

Total area:

25,000 m2

Richard Rogers Partnership


Interfaces + Ingérop

Services engineers:

OTH Sud-Ouest

Scheme design structure:

Ove Arup & Partners

Structural engineers:

OTH Sud-Ouest


Sound Research Laboratories

Lighting design:

Lighting Design Partnership

Facade consultants:

Rice Francis Ritchie


Branch Landscape Architects


Hayes Davidson

Site Management:

OTH Sud-Ouest


L’llôt Judiciaire de Bordeaux
Ministère de la Justice

Last updated: December 19, 2013

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