The new Swiss Federal Criminal Court (Bundesstrafgericht) building is located on Viale Stefano Franscini, on the site of the former commercial academy, of which the twofloor main wing remains preserved. Built as part of a prestigious but unpretentious neo-classical front building, following renovation and remodeling it currently still serves as a main entrance with open lobby. The new cantonal criminal court will likewise result from a remodeling, and will be situated directly adjacent in what is now the “Pretorio” building. A public park will be laid out between the two court structures.
Arising obscured behind the new, (old) front building of the Federal Criminal Court is a new three-story wing, the interior and exterior of which are composed of white, smooth exposed concrete. It continues the sculpted design of the neo-classical building with its slightly protruding stacking of the floors, and in the proportions of the windows’ fluted reveals. The openings, inserted at regular intervals around the façade, suggest an office building, and indeed, all of the workspaces are strung circumferentially behind the façade. Two inner courtyards bring additional daylight into the interior of the office wing, and form places of orientation within the dense spatial structure.
The large courtroom, characteristic of the new institution, is located in the core of the building. Set before it is the small visitors’ foyer, which is, in turn, flanked by the small courtroom and the press hall. As opposed to the other premises, these areas are, basically, accessible to the public and the media during the course of the criminal court’s public proceedings. The library is situated above the main courtroom, around its dome, whilst the front building houses a cafeteria and meeting rooms. The architecture and inner workings of the Federal Criminal Court are permeated by two leitmotifs, which appear as though opposites: the smooth, white exposed concrete and the sculpted ornamentation of the courtrooms. In fact, the entire new building is conceived as a so-called refined shell construction, and is refined precisely through smooth sheeting executed in white exposed concrete necessitating only minimal subsequent finishing work, such as windows and doors in smoked oak, dark wooden floors, finely sanded terrazzo floors laced with white sand, and railings of bronze-colored brass. Finally, the zenithal incident of sunlight lends the spaces a discreet style. The halls are deliberately materialized in white exposed concrete. This is unusual, at least in comparison with most hitherto structurally realized courtrooms, as walls, ceilings, and floors as well as fixtures have often been clad in (mainly dark) wood for reasons of acoustics and prestige.
“Administering justice” has always been of great significance, not only for the involved parties, but also for coexistence in society. Justice has thus not surprisingly always been administered in special places: in regents’ throne rooms, council chambers of parliaments, government offices, sacral church chambers, and chosen spaces under linden trees or mythical oaks in open fields. Architectural sources for such a site or space are, correspondingly, diverse. The courtrooms of the Federal Criminal Court have square floor plans. Each is crowned with a pyramid-shaped dome with a capped tip culminating in skylights allowing the depths of the space a zenithal incidence of light. The dome shells are richly and sculpturally ornamented, echoing baroque stucco décor. In truth, they are composed of prefabricated triangular concrete panels, which in their entirety form the loadbearing domes. To solve the problem of acoustics, inserted are perforations in which sound can get caught. The circular perforations, conical in their depths, are woven into the ornamental texture in such a way that they become a part of it. This floral fabric mantles the dome like the boughs and foliage of a treetop.
Revealed here are the conceptual interfaces of smoothness and plasticity, demure objectivity and opulent monumentality, judgment and ritual, and logic and representation. The concrete’s whiteness represents objectivity, clarity, purity, and truth, and is also the color of the empty page and impartiality. In this respect, an entirely calm, even sacred breeze wafts through the courtrooms. Against this backdrop, one could consider the new building of the Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona, viewed in the light of the south, as a discreetly objective monumental building.