Criminal Courts For Oral Trials
By Nina Tory-Henderson
Mexico’s judicial system has long been in crisis: an inefficient bureaucratic labyrinth lacking transparency. In 2008, a series of constitutional reforms were passed to change criminal trials from a written inquisitorial system, to an oral adversarial system, creating a faster more democratic process with trials open to the general public. Taller’s Criminal Courts for Patzcuaro provide the new infrastructure needed for Mexico’s transformed judicial processes.
The main challenge for Taller was to represent the ideals of the new system – ‘transparency, equality, democracy, justice and dignity’, while complying with the strict security requirements of the criminal courts. To combine both division and transparency, barriers and aperture, the court was conceived as a walled city and an ‘open town’ within. A solid 5 to 8 metre stone wall wraps the interior volume, enclosing a series of open corridors, screens and glazed structures within, which eliminate any sense of confinement or spatial hierarchy.
The Criminal Court’s elliptical plan is arranged in a series of horizontal bands, alternating between solid and void. This parallel linear arrangement allows for Taller’s initial desire to create a sense of transparency while adhering to strict security and programmatic requirements. The horizontal bands strategically separate circulation and program of various user groups, with buffers created by the voids. At one cusp of the ellipse are the waiting rooms for the accused, with a separate direct entrance. In the following band lies the judge’s office, with an independent circulation corridor. While segregated programmatically, connectivity across the building is achieved using entirely glazed facades and brick lattice screens.
The public arrive at the plans centre, entering onto the two trial courts. Perpendicular to the linear pavilions, they are given a different material and formal expression to the rest. Sitting proud and tall at the walled-city’s centre, their high ceilings and low strip windows create a sense of formality, privacy and enclosure.
Terracing down the sites natural slope, each pavilion is neighbored by a garden space. The stepped, parallel arrangement of the pavilions compose beautiful material vistas. Each space overlooking a garden, then onto the Spanish colonial terracotta tiles of the roof below, back-dropped by the encompassing volcanic stone wall – a composed tectonic layering that speaks of the sites local material tradition.
The exterior wall acts as both barrier and circulation space. Skirting the open and permeable interior, the volcanic stone walls form a narrow continuous corridor. With solid stone to either side and lit only by small high-level openings, it provides a contrasted experience to the openness it encloses. At the intersection of circulation corridors, the wall is split and rotates slightly, creating crack openings that reveal glimpses to the surrounding landscape.
Lying outside the centre of Patzcuaro in a rural setting, the Criminal Court sits in isolation from any other built context. It’s defining wall, made from volcanic stone excavated from the site, follows the it’s gentle slope, anchored to the earth from which it is made. The Criminal Court’s solidity and seemingly impenetrable perimeter which draws from ancient Mesoamerican architecture gives it a peculiar relic-like quality, although contemporary in form.
Gabriela Carrillo of Taller was awarded Architect of the Year in the 2017 Women in Architecture Awards, for the Criminal Courts. “The judges were impressed with Gabriele Carrillo’s ability to design flexible spaces, and work with light and shadow to such compelling effect.” (Chrisine Murray, Founder of Women in Architecture).