Making Justice More Transparent, Open, and Welcoming

Multnomah County Central Courthouse

Multnomah County


The 17-story Multnomah County Central Courthouse is helping transform the public’s perception and experience of the region’s justice system. Designed in collaboration with CGL Architects, a justice facility expert, and through an Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) process with Hoffman Construction, the new tower located on Portland’s downtown waterfront accommodates the essential functions of a modern courthouse.

Size

460,000 sf

Location

Portland, OR

Year Complete

2020

I love Portland because we’re building a new courthouse that doesn’t just change the Portland skyline—it’s changing lives. People who stop to watch the construction can see Heather Mayther, a journey carpenter who helped build the stunning 50‑foot columns for the new lobby. Heather has triplets, age 7, and she said showing those columns to her three daughters was one of the best moments of her life. Twenty‑one percent of the apprentices on this 17‑story project are women, and another 21 percent are men of color. Buildings matter, but how we build up our community matters more. Deborah Kafoury, Multnomah County Chairwoman

A Marketplace for Justice

An open, light-filled entry lobby communicates the public, welcoming nature of the county courts. The lobby is animated by a café, information kiosks, directional and thematic displays, public art and a dramatic staircase that moves through the space and culminates in a majestic view of Mt. Hood and the Willamette River. Most of the building elements used by County citizens are located in this spacious lobby, creating an open marketplace with ready access to services.

Symbolism in the Courthouse Design

At the heart of the design is the presence of courtrooms that are clearly visible through the glass facade of the building. Public spaces outside the courtrooms provide the building exterior with activity and dynamic energy. The next layer of the facade is glass, reinforcing the transparent nature of justice, overlaid with a regular structure that represents stability and order. The final layer of the exterior is composed of a series of panels in an irregular pattern that symbolizes the people of the County.

Sustainable Design Strategies

Using a holistic approach, the Courthouse project pushes the environmental sustainability limits in every aspect of its design. The uniquely composed façade coupled with the structural thermal mass captures the solar heat gain delivered by the morning sun. A radiant hydronic loop embedded in the concrete floor absorbs the energy that falls on the slab and redistributes it to other public spaces, reducing building heating loads on a clear winter morning by up to 20%. Architecture 2030 targets are achieved by combining limited glazing, a high-performance envelope, radiant heating and cooling systems for judge and staff offices, and a displacement system for the courtrooms and public spaces.

In addition to passive energy conservation strategies, the Courthouse features an array of rooftop solar panels whose excess energy production helps offset the adjacent Hawthorne Bridge’s energy costs.

Integrated Project Delivery

The Courthouse design team was co-located with the client and the contractor, Hoffman Construction, throughout the design and construction process. Working in an historic building on the site, the team developed a highly collaborative process that enabled everyone, from the engineers to the construction trade partners, to clearly understand the client’s goals for the project and to work together to achieve them.