Traditionally, court buildings are not the most welcoming of places and for decades function has triumphed over form. That dynamic has shifted in Booysens, Johannesburg, where President Cyril Ramaphosa on 29 March officially opened the Booysens Magistrates Court, estimated at a cost of R200-million.

Court building

Teams led by project partners Co-Arc International Architects, Consultium Architects and Urban Designers were given a joint mandate to design a new  court building on a site in Rifle Range Road. The stage was set for the construction of a new generation court building where a perfect balance of function and form prevails.

Described by Kagiso Ramatlhape, the design team leader, a director at Co-Arc and Sipho Njobe, MD of Consultium, as a project requiring unusual creative thought, the new 9 795m² court building occupies a sloping, rocky corner site and is a ‘two-and–a- half floor’ structure constructed of concrete that meets the demands of a building concerned with the dispensation of justice.

“One of the early challenges was the earthworks, which were redesigned so that only surface rock would be broken and the building was ‘lifted’ and elevated for placement on the 3,42 ha site, thereby substantially reducing costs.

Access also had to be adapted to meet the town planning needs of the surrounding area. “Access from Rifle Range Road would have disrupted traffic flow and caused congestion, so site entry is via Amanda Road. Access was created through a single, 16 metre wide sliding gate so that traffic could thereafter be ‘streamed’ for security reasons into three areas accommodating 131 parking slots.”

“Half of the building’s entire footprint is a basement which serves the needs of court officials and the SAPS. The other two floors are home to 10 courtrooms – for regional, civil and criminal courts, arranged around a great concourse, accessing the support offices required for staff and magistrates,” says Mr Ramatlhape.

“Final inspections are now underway and the facility will be fully operative in the first quarter of this year.”

Says Mr Njobe: “As architects, the primary concern for Co-Arc and Consultium was the development of a building that allowed easy access and offered public and court officials alike the use of ‘pause’ spaces and public waiting spaces. The effective use of natural light to create an impression of openness was a major consideration.”

The new structure is not a conventional court building. A large top lit concourse lends a feeling of openness to what is the major public area. Rather than being intimidating the area is a user-friendly atrium and the high volumes that have been achieved through the design open to the various functions within the building.

“The use of natural light, fundamental to the design, has been carried through to the office and support areas, creating an ergonomic, welcoming working environment. The earliest indication that we had achieved our aim of making the building accessible was when visitors said the building reminded them of a welcoming shopping mall rather than a building belonging to the Department of Justice,” says Njobe.

Louis Hanekom, Deputy director of The Department of Justice said that the new development would reduce the load on existing courts – and replaces the old Booysens Court.

“The new building will not only speed up access to justice but will also act as a model for other facilities that are on the Department’s drawing boards. “We are pleased that we were able to meet our objective of providing opportunities for black architects to be involved in key government projects. The exemplary final outcome of the project and is a tribute to the cooperative relationship developed between Co-Arc and Consultium.”

About the project partners:

Co-Arc International Architects is one of South Africa’s leading architectural firms with a 50-year history of achievement. Originally Meyer Pienaar Architects and Urban Designers, the firm underwent a change in 2005 and expanded its team to position itself for the developmental challenges in South Africa and across the country’s national boundaries.  Recognising the need to redress social and spatial imbalances, it was then that its identity was changed to meet the demands and expectations of a changing market. The company has won numerous awards and accolades, many of these in collaboration with other architects, including one for the World Bank Group in Accra, Ghana.  The company is presently engaged in designing and overseeing the construction a new tower in Sandton, which will soon be the tallest building in Africa.

Kagiso Ramatlhape leads the employment equity initiatives and the firm has many successful collaborations in joint venture with other black architects, in consequence of which Co-Arc has established itself as a key partner in empowerment ventures in the field of architecture and urban design, and focuses on a policy of pro-actively pursuing an empowerment programme centred on a seven-point mission statement adopted at the inception of the partnership.

Consultium Architects & Urban Designers is a wholly black- owned and managed multidisciplinary consulting practice. Established in 1994 as a project management and architectural practice, the firm is led by nine professionals whose skills encompass all architectural services, from design through to construction supervision.

The company has worked with established companies and government departments on various projects.  Some of its clients and projects have included ACSA, the Department of Correctional Services (Ikwezi Prison) and the Department of Health. The firm has also undertaken work for the Department of Transport on Marion Island, a South African territory and research facility in the Atlantic Ocean about  2 160 km from Cape Town.

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