Peter Kiefer, Civil Court Administrator for the Maricopa Superior Court, and Phil Knox, the General Jurisdiction Courts Administrator, are engaged in a Court Futures study for the National Association of Court Managers (NACM) and last summer they addressed the American Institute of Architects. The architects know they will have to design the courthouses and related infrastructure that the justice system will use for the next hundred years or so. And, Pete and Phil went to great effort to get a lot of input from knowledgeable people within the justice and related communities to make reasoned predictions of what forces will be acting on the courts and what that will portend for the administration of justice. For that reason, the architects were extremely interested in what Pete and Phil are finding.
Without giving away too much about the NACM study findings, I will (with Pete’s permission) reveal that, unsurprisingly, one of the scenarios deemed extremely likely to occur by the year 2025 is that most courts will have gone “paperless.” The fulfillment of that scenario alone will necessarily carry large architectural implications.
For starters, when I began researching the AIA, I found that Pete and Phil had been attending and addressing the AIA’s Academy of Architecture for Justice Fall Conference. Their website states that
“The AIA Academy of Architecture for Justice (AAJ) promotes and fosters the exchange of information and knowledge between members, professional organizations, and the public for high-quality planning, design, and delivery of justice architecture.”
Thus, not only is the AIA looking at the courthouses of the future, there is an entire academy that focuses on the subject.
Consider first the term “justice architecture.” One inescapable consequence of “paperless” courts is significantly increased emphasis on Integrated Justice. Courthouses (or whatever they are called in the future) are already, and will be designed in the future, as a component of this integrated justice system. The infrastructure will both support and leverage internal (within courts and other justice agencies) and external (cross-agency and public-facing) workflow and content flow. Physical proximity will not be the key element for effective interaction; systems integration will be.
Second, much baggage from current designs will not make the trip into the future. Imagine a funding body — legislature, county supervisors, city council — approving a design that calls for extensive square footage for document and file storage. “Mail room” will take on a completely different meaning as content is received, categorized and routed in ways designed to maximize security, efficiency and effectiveness using state of the art paper on demand processes with workflow.
Third, structures can be designed based on ergonomics, rather than to accommodate movement of paper and files to people or vice-versa. Public spaces can be located where it is more convenient (and/or more secure) for the public to visit. High-cost, high-risk transport of prisoners can be minimized or eliminated through effective leveraging of an infrastructure that supports remote audio/video conferencing and hearings, together with paper on demand that enables timely and appropriate document distribution, delivery and signature within a fully integrated environment.
These are just a few “armchair” ruminations on the implications of paper on demand for courthouse design. Doubtless many, many other interesting, exciting, and important consequences will suggest themselves to those who actually know something about architecture (of whom I am not one). For me, it is exciting to know that those who will be tasked with designing courthouses for the next century are even now engaging in this type of outreach to those attempting to understand and prepare for the future of the courts.
 To learn more about or to participate in the NACM Future of Courts study, contact Peter Keifer at email@example.com