Courthouse Expansion:The Continued Life of Virginia's Court Squares in the Twenty-First Century

Watkins, Robert, Architectural History - School of Architecture, University of Virginia
Nelson, Louis, AR-Architectural History, University of Virginia
Reilly, Lisa, AR-Architectural History, University of Virginia
Goff, Lisa, AS-English (ENGL), University of Virginia

Since 2015, Virginia’s court squares have been at the center of a national debate over memory, iconography, and the inscription of white supremacy into public space. Beyond the Confederate statues and plaques on their grounds, however, Virginia’s historic courthouse buildings have been the subject of simultaneous deliberations. In recent years, a series of courthouse expansion projects has been met with fierce local opposition, mobilizing historic preservation networks and culminating with the 2015 designation of historic courthouses statewide on Preservation Virginia’s annual list, “Virginia’s Most Endangered Historic Places.” In counties like Albemarle, Augusta, and Charlotte, these controversial court expansion proposals share a striking visual juxtaposition: a historic courthouse building, once the primary architectural element in an open public square, overwhelmed in scale or even enveloped by an immense new courts building. This thesis will analyze courthouses and their surrounding public squares in communities across Virginia. In particular, it will consider the tensions that arise when local courts operate in centuries-old facilities and the ways in which efforts to minimize this friction endanger some of these sites’ most revered qualities. The project will examine how the physical form of a completed court expansion project takes shape through an uneasy compromise between various stakeholders involved in the planning process. The investigation of three discrete projects in communities across the state invites readers to witness the public placemaking process that shapes cities today.

MARH (Master of Architectural History)
courthouse, public space, Charlotte Court House, Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia, Staunton, Virginia, court square
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