Practice Safe Design: Use a Concept

February 11th, 2016

Kivas, towers, and pit-houses, oh my!  These are just a few of the terms native to Southwest region of Colorado, home to the Montezuma County Combined Courts facility.  Situated on a 7-acre site just north of the Southwest Colorado town of Cortez, the neo-traditional courts facility is a progressively designed courthouse that derives its aesthetic from a contemporary interpretation of the traditional southwestern architectural vocabulary, evident in the nearby Mesa Verde National Park. With an abundance of natural beauty and proximity to ancient architectural dwellings, it is no wonder that inspiration for design was easy to come by. But the uniqueness of this project is not that it is a modern-day adaptation of a centuries old design; the Combined Courts, while able to build upon these ancient motifs, is also built around the constraints of a pre-engineered metal building.

P:35023 Montezuma County Court HousePresentations16-0211 Plan

Axial Influences
The courthouse is sited along a NE to SW axis to both create an axial alignment with the Ute Mountain Range and Mount Wilson across the floor plan and to take full advantage of the breathtaking views of both the Ute and San Juan Mountains to the southwest. Sitting at the high point of the site, the courthouse will be integrated into the existing landscape, creating a balanced site with terraced parking in the rear, a bio swale and natural vegetation.

P:35023 Montezuma County Court HousePresentations16-0211 Plan
P:35023 Montezuma County Court HousePresentations16-0211 Plan

Reinforcing Relationships
As previously mentioned, the architecture of the courthouse is heavily influenced by Mesa Verde and the unique regional landscape. The overall wedge-like form of the main building is symbolic of the plains rising to meet the mountains, while abstractly referencing the crevice in the Mesa Verde Mountainside. The overhang at the SE façade references the iconic recess in the mountainside that shelters the Mesa Verde site itself. Near the main public entry, a Kiva element defines the entry plaza and primarily functions as a jury assembly room, but can be repurposed as a public community room when needed. The solidity of the overall massing, recalls the exterior massing of the cave dwelling facades within Mesa Verde and further reinforces the buildings relationship to its surroundings.

P:35023 Montezuma County Court HousePresentations16-0211 Plan

Balance Inside and Out
Programmatically, the project was designed to consolidate and modernize all elements of the 22nd Judicial District of Colorado into one single story building. The approximately 32,450 SF main level contains four courtrooms and various administrative support offices, along with the offices of the probation department. Below the main level, a sub-grade route for transporting incarcerated individuals into the building via the sally port in the rear will provide security for the entry and exit of all parties involved.

While designing within the constraints of a pre-engineered metal building can be daunting to some, the design team of Humphries Poli Architects (Architect of Record) and Roth Sheppard Architects (Associate Architect) chose to embrace these characteristics in creating a modern courthouse that reflects the form, materiality and place that is Cortez, Colorado. From the ancient Basketmaker culture patterns to the earth-like finish, The Montezuma County Combined Courts will symbolically reinforce the history of the four corners while providing a facility for the future of the community.





Written by Ryan Wallace