Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.
The International Criminal Court in The Hague, The Netherlands by Wiel Arets Architects
April 23rd, 2011 by Sumit Singhal
The organizational and volumetric shape of the ICC responds to the unique programmatic demands so as to produce a strong public presence and recognition value. An apparent contradiction – an enigmatic building shell in which all people and information are completely secure – must be realized.
A contemplative working environment is designed to create the foundation for the more introverted courtrooms, the core of the project. Like precious gemstones set into jewelry, the courtrooms are framed appropriately. Four vertically extruded, lit cones denote the rooms for hearings. The epicenter of the legal organization is formed amongst a sequence of other voids in the form of patios encased by workplaces In plan the courtrooms become part of the overall spatial set-up, in section the cones display an iconographic silhouette.
This configuration reflects the necessity and intersection of two disparate scales, that of a human scale ensuring interior qualities and an almost scale less one symbolizing the global authority of the court.
The present state of The Hague as an international political domain generates an interesting tension between the local, the governmental and the global, which is evident in the site of the ICC building. The mission as so called ‘world court’ currently involves 108 member states collaborating on the concise aim to ‘act as solid fort’ against inter-country crime.
Accordingly, the formal expression of the International criminal court avoids association with the local built environment, but clearly utilizes the morphological potential of the terrain. Next to the dunes, between city- and landscape the extensive flat formation with, it’s high standing objects, defines its appearance much more as scenic sculpture than an urban structure.
Similar to the set up of other governmental palaces, two representative facilities are adjacent to the solitaire building, a formal entrance square and a pleasant garden, both accessible to a certain degree by the public. Together they provide for the integrated public realm and a collective spirit for the overall context.
The controlled entrance operates as a pivotal point due to its position in the entire complex and as a continuation of the tapering public square, which includes a drop off. It separates its attendees into visitors, participants and ICC staff. After being split up, both user groups only meet again visually in the respective courtrooms.
The journalists and guests are approaching the media centre and public galleries via a public stair and lobby on the first floor, which contains selected areas with educational and informational facilities.
The other parties, actively concerned with the trial, enter the courtrooms from the halls orientated towards the dunes. The upper level walkway is reserved for the judges entering the deliberation room.
While the main motion sequence of visitors rests upon a cross route, linked to views into the green dunes, the main course of movement ‘dedicated entrance’ users is a longitudinal. Their perception is focused on the multilayered interiority characterized by a field of insular patios, which partly open up directly to the circulation zone to guarantee a simple orientation despite imposing dimensions. Because the building structure is for the most part arranged in only three levels, informal encounters as well as physical movement are encouraged.
The accused and the protected witnesses arrive at the building at the secured drop off point in a designated hedge compartment along the lower cycle path on minus one. They only meet in the courtroom.
In order to integrate all vehicles outside of the garage as discreetly as possible into the garden, two further hedge boxes are designated as parking zones for bikes, coaches and satellite vans. Likewise, the ramps to the separated underground facilities are blended into selected fields of the garden. While the warehouse is linked to the main building via a slice in the basement, users of the car park enter like pedestrians through the entrance square.
Considering the complexity of requirements and operational procedures, a specific spatial shelter, rather then a generic office plan is made to measure for the new residence of the ICC. Sequences of different sized orthogonal patios surrounded by offices are slightly rotated towards each other to zone a common circuit offering diverse perspectives instead of repetitive corridors.
The three floors of this modified office typology contain all functional units needed in close adjacency with the centrally situated courtrooms. The conference cluster is in front of the courtrooms.
To the right are the offices of the prosecutor, which continue on the level above. The judiciary and registry flank the courtrooms to the left, whereby the registry, through the occupation of the entire lowest level, is conveniently located to the other individual programmatic areas.
In order to avail of beauty of the immediate surrounding and long distance views, the lit cones accommodate both the public and staff restaurants at roof level. Although they share a kitchen, the goods, the public and the staff have separate routings, in form of vertical connections along one of the lit cones.
The classification into four different levels of security responds to the given requirements. Yet, the proposed structure, a virtually column free continuous surface, allows for a variety of established office configurations, ranging from maximal cell to open space layout as well as adjustments of dimensions and uses in a simple manner. Because of permanent changes of working processes and intensity of use, flexibility and reversibility of the spatial divisions correspond with the logical spread of daylight, natural ventilation as well as views through the outer skin and voids.
A direct relationship to the respective sunken patios and filtered views into the adjacent garden relates to the requirement for discretion and making a beautiful place. The proportions of the various outdoor spaces ensure identity and territoriality of the different work units. Together with a series of inner voids connected to the staircases and a couple of service points at crossings they allow for dissociated insights and overviews within the court, which in turn generates communication on a professional as well as informal level.
Considering the geometric outline and projection of a secure image for the ICC, concrete is a natural choice as a prevailing material. In particular, the inclined cones call to mind rocks that correspond to the image of solidity. The entire building shell is made of in situ poured concrete, except for the glazed skin around the patios as second layer behind the perforated outer cladding.
A thin steel column structure linked to the pillars of the glazed façade together with vertical shafts carries pre-stressed concrete footplates. This means that economic spans are used everywhere except the public areas. Because the offices are organized inwards, the building liberates the outer envelope – carried out in two layers – from functional necessities. Accordingly, the applied perforation delivers a universal expression. Its absence of directionality is suited to the envelope and embodies the sculptural approach. By adding reflective pieces of metal to the molding, the polished concrete reads ambiguously between massive and lucid.
The materialization and clean detailing, its connection to the outside via filtered vast views and intimate patios, as well as its stark figure are beyond temporary aesthetics, having emerged as a response to the conditions of a new kind of organization. In this tension, a non-conventional typology that responds to the demand of performing at opposite scales and times exists.
The entire elevation of the ICC towards the city turns into an iconographic imagery for the formal square, where news coverage and gatherings are anticipated. Its alternating contours are seen as a dynamic response to the self-evident request of and for the media presence. The demand for different dispositions and intensities of light exposure is achieved by a system of LEDs inserted in the compressed sand covered surface.
In return for taking a large building footprint, a pleasure garden creates the interface between the edifice and its close surrounding. Its geometry and lines relate to the different concerns of logistics, security and separated outdoor areas. Borders and routes can be arranged as a kind of camouflage, just as the box-trimmed hedges define a progression of places by connecting them at carefully chosen points. Visitors, staff members and the public are invited to enwrap, reflect and relax while taking a stroll through the enfilage. Knowing that The Hague is derived from ‘The Count’ s Hedge’, can be seen as a local acknowledgment or nice coincidence.
Beyond their functional aspect, the patios give a contemplative mood in the middle of highest concentration, exertion, defense and offence. As voids they are charged with botanical patterns that work on two perspectives and scales. At eye height they vitalize as flowering meadow, from the top view the image of the framed ‘flower carpets’ resemble a picture gallery. The final ‘far sight’ from the outdoors terraces in-between the lit cones on the roof levels completes the polychromatic experiences produced by the entire ICC complex.
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