Marie Bels (Brussels, Bonn): Contemporary Courthouses. Architectural images and spatial representations of Justice


In the last twenty years, a few courthouse competitions have completely unsettled the traditional architectural representation of justice, such as it appears in the palace with colonnade and pediment, the classical Temple of Justice. Designed by the most famous architects, some of these new judicial buildings are very spectacular, by their forms, volumes and materials, in such a way that they become a new presence in the city, featuring their technical nature in the urban space. Is that a sign of significant changes of the place and the role of the judicial institution in our hypermodern societies? Or a consequence of the functional requirements of performance and productivity, which the institution is now facing?

Beyond the work of design teams, these public architectures are the product of a social culture. Looking at drawings, plans and views, we will try to understand how the architects have answered to the complex and paradoxical demand of judiciary and politicians: conciliate efficiency and security with visibility and monumentality, and, furthermore, invent an aesthetic language that might be “read” by the largest public, in a multicultural and global context.

Dr. Marie Bels

Curriculum Vitae

Architect and historian of architecture Marie Bels studied in Strasbourg and Venice and holds a doctorate degree in architecture from the École nationale supérieure d’architecture Paris Malaquais / Université Paris Est. Dr. Bels has taught at several architecture schools, inter alia at Paris-Belleville, Paris-Malaquais and Marseille-Luminy. Moreover, she has worked as a translator of architectural theoretical works and as an independent researcher for architects, firms and local communities. Most recently, she held a post-doctoral residency at the Laboratoire d’étude de l’architecture potentielle (LEAP) at the Université de Montréal. Since January 2015, Marie Bels is Fellow at the Käte Hamburger Center for Advanced Study in the Humanities “Law as Culture”.