Housing for Justice: City Turns New Leaf

Event: 2008 Architecture: Designs for Living: Public Lecture Series: NEW JUSTICE/NEW YORK
Location: Center for Architecture, 02.11.08
Speakers: Scott Sigal — Deputy, NYC Office of Criminal Justice Coordinator; Martin Horn — Commissioner, NYC Department of Correction and Probation; David Burney, FAIA — Commissioner, NYC Department of Design and Construction
Moderator: Frank J. Greene, FAIA — Principal, RicciGreene Associates
Organizer: AIANY Architecture for Justice Committee
Sponsors: Champion: Studio Daniel Libeskind; Supporters: Gensler; Humanscale; James McCullar & Associates; Friends: Costas Kondylis & Partners; Forest City Ratner Companies; Frank Williams & Associates; Hugo S. Subotovsky A.I.A. Architects; Mancini Duffy; Magnusson Architecture and Planning; Rawlings Architects; RicciGreene Associates; Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; Syska Hennessy Group; Trespa North America; Universal Contracting Group

Rikers Island

Rikers Island is no longer a model for justice facilities.

Courtesy Google Earth

A justice facility should embody authority and compassion, equality and openness and remind the public that prisoners are still part of the greater community. According to Frank Greene, FAIA, principal of RicciGreene Associates, justice facilities are benchmarks and emblems of a community’s civil pride.

In NYC, the violent crime rate dropped by almost half between 1980 and 2006. A panel of experts working in the NYC judicial system agreed that this is because the justice system continues to decentralize and there are more community-based initiatives. Though the court system has been serving fewer people, it is still overtaxed. The importance of not only building new justice facilities but also the need to renovate existing facilities is a high priority if the system is to maintain this positive trend, according to Scott Sigal, deputy in the NYC Office of Criminal Justice Coordinator.

NYC serves over 100,000 inmates each year with an average inmate holding time of 45 days. Martin Horn, commissioner in the NYC Department of Correction and Probation, blames the poor infrastructure at facilities such as Rikers Island for creating a culture of separation. He argues that more detention facilities need to be built closer to borough courthouses. The Manhattan Detention Center designed by Urbahn Architects, for example, was first met with community disapproval, but is now a model for such type of development. The lower floors house residential and retail, almost denying that it is a jail.

If there is any way to judge the future of judicial facilities, perhaps it is through some of the recently constructed buildings. The Bronx County Hall of Justice, designed by Rafael Viñoly Architects, with its glass curtain wall is transparent from the exterior and maximizes natural light in the interior. It also includes a civic plaza for the community and open spaces to comfort those as they await trial. The newly announced Staten Island Courthouse by Polshek Partnership with RicciGreen Associates will, for the first time in NYC, house both a state and community level court in the same complex. Ultimately, the panel agreed that the future of courthouses, police stations, and detention facilities in the city lies in community-based initiatives, a sense of transparency, sustainability, and above all, humaneness.