While a courthouse is fundamentally a civic building, what happens within is often reserved and intimate. From ordinary citizens facing life-changing events to politicians facing the cameras, the courts are the backdrop to myriad experiences, encompassing both public and deeply private life. For architects, this presents a distinct challenge: How to balance the two? In Copenhagen, Henning Larsen‘s recently completed Østre Landstret (Eastern High Court) offers a thoughtful balance, bringing a distinctly public ambiance to a quietly dignified setting.

An exterior view of the courthouse, designed by Henning Larsen.

Completed in 2022, the 16,000-square-metre courthouse is situated in the Danish capital’s rapidly developing Nordhavn district, a coastal neighbourhood on the Øresund Strait. The structure meets the public realm with a distinctive yet understated façade of subtly varied grey and buff brick, accented by discrete, slightly recessed picture windows framed by angular brickwork. A small public plaza fronts the main entrance, framing the building with greenery and seating.

In Copenhagen, A Courthouse Channels Civic Spirit

Inside, the building is divided into public and private zones. The lower levels feature a long open atrium that forms the building’s central spine, which serves as a public meeting place and seating area, as well as the court records library, a cafeteria, dining space and other relatively informal uses. Designed to provide greater security, privacy and discretion, the upper levels house the courtrooms, meeting and mediation spaces and related functions.

In Copenhagen, A Courthouse Channels Civic Spirit

While the atrium creates a sense of unity and airy cohesion throughout the complex, the circulation is carefully resolved to maintain a separation between the upper and lower levels.

In Copenhagen, A Courthouse Channels Civic Spirit

According to the design team, “Defendants are brought up into the courts where prosecutors must descend a floor to reach them, separated by a public floor in which all parties meet.” Throughout, light wood finishes instil a sense of calm and balance.

In Copenhagen, A Courthouse Channels Civic Spirit

The result is a coherent and legible space, with a sense of openness that artfully belies the complexity of uses and varied circulation. In the Danish capital, the celebrated local designers have married public and private functions with sensitivity and civic spirit.

In Copenhagen, A Courthouse Channels Civic Spirit
In Copenhagen, A Courthouse Channels Civic Spirit

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