The Howard County Circuit Courthouse creates a modern expression of justice through the application of architecture, planning and programming. Built on a 30-acre former brownfield site, the building replaces a 175-year-old facility that could no longer meet today’s user and technology needs.
HOK’s design recognizes the role courthouses serve as civic spaces. The stone and glass building references the materiality of historic courthouses while treating visitors to serene views of nature. The building’s planning preserved all existing trees and added 100 more to the site. An adjacent parking garage opens the surrounding grounds for use as public plazas, art installations, native habitat and renewable energy. An on-site solar field was designed to supply the building with over 50 percent of its energy needs.
The courthouse’s interior prioritizes health, well-being and safety. Its spaces are clearly organized, filled with light and welcoming. Security measures are addressed in a double-height entry pavilion that frees the building’s central atrium to serve as public space. The four-story atrium’s clear views help orient visitors by directing them to services and functions throughout the building. An intricate network of exterior fins minimize heat gain, control glare and cast intriguing patterns of light and shadows on the interior’s circulation paths.
Each of the building’s 12 courtrooms can be accessed directly from main corridors. This simple but powerful organization helps the public feel more comfortable in the space. The plan also includes office space and a courtroom for a sixth judge as well as a large and comfortable jury assembly area with views to the nearby woods.
The courthouse represents Howard County’s largest capital project ever and its first public-private partnership (P3) project. Built during the pandemic, the project was completed on time and on budget.