Text by Eugene Tan
A distinctive building in a visually prominent location, well buffered from the main pedestrian arteries. A stellar representative of local architecture, the octagonal building with its radiating wings forms a commanding presence, complementing the lawyers who scuttle in and around it, clad in their smart black suits. Look out for the journalists, waiting around the main entrance for their next big scoop.
In 1972, plans were made to consolidate Singapore’s district and magistrate courts under one roof in the shape of a State Courts (formerly named Subordinate Courts). After a milestone collaboration between Kumpulan Akitek and the Public Works Department, the State Courts was opened in 1975. It housed 28 courtrooms, a registry, library, solicitors' bar room, judges' chambers, witness rooms, canteen, and a prisoner lock-up.
The courts’ distinctive geometric shape was sculpted from the resolution of the disparate functions and independent routes and spaces for the building’s various users. For example, pairs of double-storey courtrooms hide between them their respective judge’s chambers and ancillary rooms, radiating from an octagonal central atrium acting as a navigational marker for the public. The clever use of mezzanine floors, staircases and lifts also keep judge circulation and prisoner movement separate from public spaces. In a deftly-executed synthesis of function and form, the ingenuity of the State Courts lies in the unseen.
Whilst competently carrying out its functional role, the stepped form is also a clever disguise for the 9-storey building, keeping the higher floors out of sight at street level and giving the building a more humane scale. Nevertheless, the stateliness of the Courts is not lost, with a strongly defined sense of symmetry and geometry experienced whether one is approaching from a distance, or ascending the staircases within.
As the workload of the State Courts increases over time, various upgrading projects have been initiated, such as the expansion into “Havelock Square” to house the Family and Juvenile Court Building and the Small Claims Tribunals. Scheduled for completion by 2019, a new Subordinate Courts complex is to be built adjacent to the existing premises, consisting of two significantly higher towers. The State Courts was given its new name in January 2014 to reflect the evolved role of the lower courts in the local judicial system.