The project resulted from an open competition won by Architects Christian Kronaus and Erhard An-He Kinzelbach in collaboration with Vasko+Partner Engineers. The courthouse St. Pölten (Lower-Austria) asked for a building extension to house the higher regional court, district court and the state proscecutor’s office. In addition, it required a redesign of the representative public square in front of the historic courthouse building with a new parking garage underneath.
At an urban scale, the new building closes the gap between the existing courthouse and the neighboring prison. The former is a landmarked building with three floors. A key challenge in the design of the extension was to find a solution that would respect the historical context and coherently connect old and new while, at the same time, treat the new building as a structure in its own right, rather than as a mere annex. The mediation between old and new does not only function in formal terms but also on a spatial and organizational level. In particular, a system was developed that efficiently connects the three storeys of the courthouse building with the five storeys in the new building while, at the same time, mediating between the differing ceiling heights.
Performative Urban Field
The overall design of the new project tries to exctract as much as possible out of the organizational capacity of the existing building’s facade. This particularily applies to the design of the square in front of the historic building. It replaces a previously hardly used forecourt, offering the city a new, attractive and programmed public space of urban quality and intensity. It is at once prominent, inviting yet protective towards the heavily used road. In order to integrate the building context into the square’s design, the facade order is projected onto the square. This does not only establish a dialogue between the building and ist immediate environment, but also conditions an urban field of elements with different additional functions. These urban furnitures as benches, planters at different heights and ventilation shafts form an artificial topography that caters to a multitude of urban activities and circulation patterns. The formerly determined forecourt with parking spaces thus transforms into a less determined and open field of urban furnitures that cater to more different uses and modes of appropriation. This renders the space as a lively, activated and differentiated urban public space as a place to stay, while it does not compromise on the given requirements for circulation and accessibilty.
Served and Serving Program
The program of the extension building is divided into serving and served rooms. As a result, the building is composed of 2 distinct volumes, one holding the served spaces, offices and library, one holding all serving functions, as stair, elevator, bathrooms, server rooms and vertical shafts. The former has all flexibility, not least due to a exosceletal structure with a minimum of internal columns and non-bearing parition walls, while the latter connects and mediates between the old and the new building.
A performative folded wall divides the central corridor and the offices. It does not only separate spaces, but provides built-in file cabinets and closets for the office interiors, while adding value to the functional corridor by creating waiting and meeting areas in front of the office doors with integral benches and direct and indirect lighting fixtures.
In its function as interface between inside and outside, between building and city, the façade plays a key role in bridging the dichotomies between tabula rasa and contextualization as well as between unity and distinctiveness. The façade operates as spatial organization that allows local differentiation in a coherent whole. In the design solution developed for the extension of the courthouse in St. Pölten, the façade is used as a central means to organize and zone the interior, to shape programme and to evoke atmosphere and affect.
Accordingly, the perforated and grooved façade of the extension building seeks not only to address the discrepancy between the number and height of storeys in the two buildings but also to accommodate – and enhance – the functionality of the new office building. The coherent application of the Aluminium-Copper facade integrates two factors: the horizontal grooving extends existing lining in the façade of the historic building and enriches it with additional lines that denote the storeys in the new building; and an irregular perforation with windows of two different sizes. As a result of the grooving and the abandonment of the traditional window format, the difference in storey structure is veiled and the new extension is formally connected with the historic building. At the same time, the façade articulates and engenders independent identity. From the inside, the perforation of the façade provides for a multiplication of illumination and vista: instead of conventional window positions, the facade offers overhead skylights, desk-level lights and floor-level lights. These three different openings direct the view in unconventinal ways while ensuring sufficient light and convenient look-outs for the office staff.
The golden material gives the new façade an associated and yet distinctive colour – it functions as a modern interpretation of the yellow color of the historic buildings. The material’s characteristic gloss and brilliance does not only grant the building a warm and pleasant character, but transforms continuously in the course of day and following seasonal changes. The building literally becomes alive.