Sandra Day O’Connor Courthouse

Unprecedented transparency and a central civic space create a monument to democratic values.

Located in the heart of Phoenix, this building seeks to provide a fitting setting for the courthouse as a public institution while simultaneously establishing appropriate spatial relationships between the judiciary, the jury, and the public. The structure is designed as a monumental six-story steel and glass atrium, backed by an L-shaped block faced in masonry. It houses nineteen district courts, four magistrates’ courts, and a wide range of support facilities, ranging from a library and a press room to childcare facilities.  

The heart of the project is the 350-foot by 150-foot glazed atrium, which is treated as an internal civic space. Within the atrium a cylindrical room, finished with wood veneer, houses the special proceedings court, which has been conceived as a ceremonial space and is capped by a shallow, inverted dome of translucent glass, designed by the American glass artist James Carpenter. This monumental atrium is flanked on the south by six floors of offices and courtrooms with an open gallery overlooking the internal civic space. Light plays a critical role in the articulation of this volume, which is naturally lit from above and the sides during the day and emits a radiant glow of artificial light at night.

The building’s atrium is passively cooled by natural convection, making it an extremely comfortable space, well suited to public gatherings. The deployment of adiabatic cooling technology—which works through evaporation rather than heat exchange—is used to maintain a lower air temperature without a significant expenditure of energy, making the design exceptionally efficient even in a challenging desert climate.