Polk County Justice Center

Des Moines, Iowa
  • 2019 • American Institute of Architects
    Justice Facility Review Award, Citation
  • 2019 • American Institute of Architects, Iowa Chapter
    Merit Award

This juvenile justice center is the first of three projects that will address Polk County, Iowa’s  overcrowded court system, improve safety, and reduce the county’s reliance on leased property.

Juvenile court is just one of several user groups housed within the 174,000-square-foot abandoned office building, originally built in 1971 as a JC Penney. Strategically placing high activity spaces on first floor with the quieter functions on adjacent floors allowed a multi-user facility to operate cohesively.

Three of the interior floors are interconnected by an open stairway which replaced escalators. A new public elevator supplements the stairway as primary vertical circulation. The centralized open stairway also serves as a porthole for daylighting gathered from the corridors and windows.

The requirement for separate public, secure judicial, and secure detainee circulation presented a challenge for daylighting the courtrooms. At exterior facing courtroom, the high ceilings allowed the use of transoms to borrow daylight over top of the back-of-courtroom circulation corridors.

Indiana limestone, glass curtainwalls, wood panels and shade devices, and zinc cladding rejuvenated the nearly windowless brick façade of the 1970s department store.

On the public side of the courtrooms, wood and zinc elements accentuate the courtroom entrances and complement the exterior material pallet. These material accents along with clearly defined circulation and wayfinding, warm and effective daylighting, and comfortable seating combine to create calming environment and exceptional user experience.

Similar Projects

Back to Portfolio