Cordoba, Courtyards, Islamic architecture, Mecanoo, Palace of Justice, Spain

Mecanoo’s new Palace of Justice building is a modern take on Cordoba’s Great Mosque

Dutch architecture studio Mecanoo has completed the design for the Palace of Justice building in Cordoba, Spain, inspired by the city’s Great Mosque and Islamic heritage.

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Created in collaboration with local engineering firm Ayesa, the 48,000m2 project marks the city’s new civic centre.

Courtyards are a vital part of the building’s architecture, formed by the vertical slots that break up the building that is arranged around a central ‘spine’ with blocks set on either side.

According to the architects, the “puzzle-like structure” of the building is a reference to Cordoba’s historical centre which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – contrasting with the regimented housing blocks that now make up the Arroyo del Moro neighbourhood, where the law courts are located.

The city of Cordoba has a long history of Islamic rule, formerly the capital of the The Caliphate of Cordoba – a state in Islamic Iberia ruled by the Umayyad dynasty, which existed from the year 929 to 1031.

The region was also formerly dominated by the Umayyad Emirate of Córdoba, which gave rise to various areas of trade and culture, and also saw the construction of Andalusian architecture which are today considered masterpieces.

The city’s Islamic influence informed the design of the building, especially through the use of courtyards which are prominent in Islamic architecture and in warm countries due to their functionality of shading and allowing cool air to circulate.

“The vertical fractures that are introduced in the building mass create patios, relating the local courtyard typologies. These fractures provide natural light and ventilation in the central zones of the large building,” the architects explained.

“One can say that the sustainability of the building is not achieved by expensive technological mechanisms but by an intelligent interpretation of the vernacular architecture.”

The building also directly references the Great Mosque of Cordoba, reinterpreting its elements to form a contemporary architecture language.

Its white exterior and courtyard walls are overlaid with a veil of golden filigree inspired by the gilded prayer niches that are carved into the pale stone of the mosque.

The geometric patterns on the exterior a similar function as a mashrabiya screen, providing the courts with an extra layer of privacy.

In addition to containing 26 courtrooms, the six-storey building also contains offices, an archive, room for weddings, a prison, a café, the Forensic Institute and a parking garage.

Due to the nature of the building, many of the architectural elements and functions of the building had to respond to the notion of privacy.

On the ground floor, one can find the public courtrooms, marriage registry office and a restaurant, along with sheltered outdoor courtyards.

High-security courtrooms and offices are set on the upper levels of the buildings, while the archives and jail cells are located underground.

The structure of the building itself responds to this notion of privacy, being set two metres above street level on a podium, with all its three entrances accessible via ramps.