And Justice for All
PROJECT Renfrew COUNTY COURTHOUSE, PEMBROKE, ONTARIO
ARCHITECT Norr Limited Architects And Engineers
TEXT Ian Chodikoff
PHOTOS Steven Evans
The oft-hermetic and intimidating courthouse is not a public building type usually associated with contributing to a sense of pride of place. However, a recent $20-million makeover to an Eastern Ontario courthouse proves that judicial facilities can indeed contribute to the public life of a community. Located in the Upper Ottawa Valley, Pembroke (pop. 14,000) is situated at the forks of the Ottawa and Muskrat Rivers. Founded in 1828 by lumber barons, many of its citizens work for the nearby Atomic Energy of Canada’s Chalk River Laboratories, while a few kilometres up the river, Canadian Forces Base Petawawa–one of the largest military bases in Canada–supports Pembroke’s modest but healthy local economy.
Pembroke’s importance in the County of Renfrew was solidified when its courthouse opened in 1866, followed by the construction of the red sandstone Municipal Building in 1871. Both buildings were constructed along Pembroke Street, the main thoroughfare where the usual mix of small-town architecture can be found: the occasional convenience store, insurance companies operating out of buildings clad in vinyl siding, beautifully restored Victorian mansions, and restaurants, bars and shops housed in modest red-brick commercial buildings. Nearly every storefront proudly displays signs emblazoned with “We Support Our Troops.” Besides small pockets of public space such as the area surrounding the monument dedicated to the soldiers of the Great War, and a sunken park flanking the Muskrat River, the possibility of any public space improvements along the main artery of Pembroke was warranted. The newly expanded courthouse successfully contributes to this amelioration.
Considered one of the finest courthouses in the country during its day, the original courthouse was designed by Henry Horsey and completed in 1866. Its projecting pedimented centre block with symmetrical wings incorporates sedate stone detailing and rusticated quoins–finished in multi-hued sandstone locally quarried at nearby Morrison Island. Adjacent to the courthouse lies the registry office, which had been nearly encapsulated in the new design. Completed in 1869, the registry was built to new fire-prevention standards promoted by the Chief Architect of Canada at the time, Kivas Tully, whose obsession with safety led him to disseminate a fireproof design for archival facilities across the country. The Renfrew County Registry Office is comprised of three barrel-vaulted masonry chambers, an exterior wall system incorporating a ventilating space behind the faade, along with iron-clad doors and iron window arches and sills. It was among the first in the province to be constructed using Tully’s design guidelines. The barrel-vaulted structure survived the renovation, while portions of the faade remain exposed within the lawyers’ lounge despite being encased behind the addition of thick exterior stone walls of quarried sedimentary limestone. Depending on the light, the new stone walls change from a light grey to a rich tan colour.
Designed by NORR Limited Architects and Engineers in Toronto and led by partner David Clusiau, the Renfrew County Courthouse is one of the firm’s latest courthouse projects. A commission several years in the making, the project underwent numerous studies to determine the heritage value of the site’s existing buildings before a plan of action was determined. Once the project received sufficient financial support from the Ontario provincial government, Clusiau’s team began working on the schematic design. While the original jail, courthouse and registry were preserved, a Victorian-styled residence built several decades later was not considered architecturally or historically significant and therefore removed. From the 1950s onward, several accretions to the site ensued, virtually engulfing the original buildings and removing them from the public consciousness. Clusiau’s team removed many of these additions so that the existing jail, the original courthouse and the new courtroom facilities would be mediated by the creation of a two-storey atrium space. Although the atrium is conservative in dimension, by exposing the existing stone and masonry conditions wherever possible and enhancing these conditions with the contrast of relatively light design elements such as glass and steel, this functional space succeeds in providing an attractive public space within the building.
In recent years, the Ministry of Justice has been working toward reducing the backlog of legal cases across the province by consolidating various satellite courthouses to expedite the judicial process and accommodate a variety of support services more efficiently. The courthouse renovation in Pembroke consolidates the Superior and Ontario Courts of Justice from four locations into a single renovated municipally owned national heritage courthouse and registry office building. The 65,000-square-foot-facility contains six courtrooms, two jury deliberation rooms, two settlement rooms, a victim/witness assistance program office, and Crown attorney offices. Previously, there was only one courtroom with little space for support staff, offices and ancillary programming.
With the addition of five new courtrooms, facilities such as video remand, equipment to record testimonies and simultaneous translation (Quebec lies just across the Ottawa River) were included in the program. Significant improvements to the courthouse’s HVAC necessitated the inclusion of upgraded mechanical systems that draw in copious amounts of fresh air to keep everybody awake and focused during the long and often soporific proceedings. Another notable feature is the provision of a child-friendly courtroom: a dedicated suite allows children to make either video or general testimonies, and inside, a special curtain descends to railing height, shrinking the scale of the courtroom to make it appear less intimidating. In addition to enhancing security features such as a new audio surveillance system, closed-circuit television monitors in holding cells, and barrier-free design, the reality of contemporary courthouse design continues to be influenced by American security issues requiring judges, the accused and the public to circulate through the building separately. These requirements rendered the design process significantly more complicated: separate entranceways and corridors ensure that judges and the accused do not mingle with the public moving in and out of the building. Similarly, the provision of a sally port enables the accused to enter the courthouse via a secured vehicle.
A signature element of the building is the southwest portion of the faade, where an array of square punctures acknowledges the encapsulation of the old registry building. This gesture represents the architects’ intention that–from a heritage standpoint–something of significance is located behind the new stone faade. The punctured treatment of the faade also creates a distinct quality of light in the lawyers’ lounge behind, allowing the user to experientially distinguish between old and new components. However, this architectural negotiation between old and new seriously breaks down upon viewing the building along William Street, where portions of the original brick walls and windows of the registry peek through an unconvincing and heavy-handed stone appliqu. This is perhaps the least successful component of the building, and perhaps indicates a lack of resolution between client and architect on how to convey the site’s various historic components. Nonetheless, the articulation of the stone faades, canopy, front entrance and public grounds along Pembroke Street make up for any of these shortcomings. With an elegant doubling of thin steel columns beneath a generous canopy softened with cedar on its underbelly, the very public and respectably civic nature of the entranc
e to this building is assured, establishing a heightened sense of pride of place for the Pembroke community.
And what does Pembroke think of this new courthouse? The nearby innkeeper, local merchants, and many of the parishioners emerging from the Wesley United Church across the street from the courthouse are steadfastly proud of this recent addition to their city that not only enlivens the 19th-century streetscape, but ensures that justice has been served to this quaint city along the Ottawa River.
CLIENT ONTARIO REALTY CORPORATION/MINISTRY OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
DESIGN TEAM DAVID CLUSIAU, IRINA KOURZKOVA, ATTILIO LABRIOLA, MARK SIDER, ANDREW SCHMIDT
PRODUCTION TEAM KRISTI CASTILLOUX, IHOR HRYTSKIV, JONATHAN HUGHES, MAZEN JERJEES, DAN MACKENZIE, MARK SCHULTZ, KAI YU
STRUCTURAL/MECHANICAL/ELECTRICAL NORR LIMITED ARCHITECTS AND ENGINEERS
LANDSCAPE ENVISION–THE HOUGH GROUP
INTERIORS NORR LIMITED ARCHITECTS AND ENGINEERS
CONTRACTOR M. SULLIVAN & SON LIMITED
HERITAGE A. SCHEINMAN HERITAGE PRESERVATION CONSULTANT
BUDGET $20 M
AREA 65,000 FT2
COMPLETION AUGUST 2007