When Nashville’s original courthouse, the 34,000-square-foot Ben West Building, could no longer support the needs of the growing metropolitan area, the City called upon Gresham Smith to provide design services for a new downtown court of law, and to prepare plans to renovate the existing 69-year-old courthouse.
Combining state-of-the-art security with the traditional architectural style that defines Nashville, Gresham Smith designed the seven-story, 235,000-square-foot Justice A. A. Birch Building to complement nearby governmental buildings, including the Ben West Building, while providing its own unique presence. The innovative design solution separates occupants through three defined vertical zones: one for the public and jury members, one for the judges, and one for defendants and inmates. Each vertical zone provides its own stairwell, elevator and entryways into the courtrooms. Gresham Smith’s design configuration allows for easy public navigation, directing visitors through the courthouse security system upon arrival where guards use the latest in security technology to ensure that no harmful objects enter the facility. The public may then travel through the building’s primary corridor that features easy-to-read signage. Connected to the adjacent Ben West Building, the courthouse includes 16 state and local courtrooms, an underground parking garage, and seven public floors in total: six for the public, and a ground floor that’s reserved for the building’s maintenance and the inmates’ holding cells.
Representing the responsibility and idealism the building aims to inspire, perhaps one of the most visually stunning and unique aspects of the courthouse’s exterior is the projected art of Lady Justice, which is featured on the southern side of the building. A well-known quote from Alexander Hamilton: “The First Duty of Society is Justice” is featured underneath the representational iconography.
Gresham Smith’s renovation plans for the interior portion of the historic Ben West Building took the utmost care to restore and preserve the character of the building, including the vaulted ceilings and millwork. The renovated building meets ADA requirements and once again houses the courts and judicial offices for Metro Nashville.
Completed on time and within budget, the award-winning Justice A.A. Birch Building not only enhances the city’s character, but also better serves the Metro Nashville community in terms of both size and security. Gresham Smith was also responsible for designing an inmate-only sky bridge that connects the Justice A.A. Birch Building with the Criminal Justice Center on the other side of Second Avenue. The sky bridge’s direct link to the courthouse provides an added measure of security during detainee transit.