The Supreme Court of Iceland
The site of the Supreme Court of Iceland is on a low hill in the center of Reykjavík, framed by the State Ministries building, the former National Library, and the National Theater.
To the west, the hill is open to the Atlantic Ocean. A chaotically disjointed street, Lindargata, defines the north boundary of the site. By locating the building on the northern half of the site, the street line is reinforced at the critical point where it opens to the sea. The southern part of the site is offered back to the city as a sheltered garden, a precious resource in northern latitudes.
The building is highest and widest at its western end, achieving a scale and proportion equivalent to the flanking Arnarhváll and library buildings. Towards the east, the form is pulled and twisted both by the gravitational forces of the surrounding buildings and the pressures of the enclosed spaces so that it is gradually reduced in height and width towards the theater. A lower, roof planted block that overlooks a small square at the rear of the theater terminates the eastern end.
The upper part of the street facades is clad in pre patinated copper sheet above a hewn basalt plinth. On the south façade, the copper is pulled from the building form to meet the tilted grass plane of the garden. Slipping from beneath the protective green cloak, a prismatic window hints at the circulation system within.
A sawed basalt clad "tower" marks the public entrance in the southwestern corner' other points of emphasis are denoted by honed gabbró, an indigenous metamorphic stone. Internally, a limited pallet of oak, plaster, polished and fair faced concrete, and steel is used with simple details and an emphasis on local craftsmanship.
The internal planning is primarily organized by the segregation of public and judiciary spaces. A consequence of this division is two different buildings within a single enveloping skin. From the low entrance lobby, the public enters a long, double height space tucked behind the distorted south facade. From the ground floor reception, a ramp runs the length of the building and back again at a higher level.
The courtrooms and reception rooms are arranged along the ramp and have diminishing volumes in relation to their scale. Daylight penetrates the space through narrow slits and in seating areas offering views to the outside world. Staff enters by the north entrance or via the naturally ventilated car park.
The internal functions are organized around a stair and lift core that culminates in the judges' quarters on the top floor. The generous offices are supported by a library, secretarial facilities, and large meeting rooms. The judges spend most of their time in these rooms that are exceptionally high and command expansive views over the ocean. The courtrooms are embraced by the internal and public functions. Although they share the same materials and finishes, the volumes are more complex fine tuned like a musical instrument to the precious value of the spoken word.
Built to tight cost constraints, the building was completed under budget. This was achieved through design by maximizing the volumetric use of the building and the judicious specification of materials. Quality belies economy, largely due to the very close cooperation between the designers, contractors, and client during all stages of construction.
Facts about The Supreme Court of Iceland
Site: 1,639 m2
Sólveig Berg Björnsdóttir
Mechanical Engineer/Quantity Surveyor:
State Building Agency
The Icelandic State
Last updated: December 19, 2013
Pasadena, California, USA