The Strasbourg court is a key building in the history of RRP and one of the few landmarks which provide a credible architectural image for the new Europe. The site is away from the historic centre of the city but close to the river. RRP aimed to create a symbolic landmark but not a monument: the nature of the Court’s business implies that its premises should be anything but intimidating or fortress-like. Rather it should be welcoming and humane, while preserving an appropriate dignity. Protecting and enhancing the quality of the site was another prime objective, while economy of running and a ‘natural’ environment were almost equally important.
The basic diagram of the scheme was tested to the limits during the design process – the collapse of the communist bloc greatly increased the European ‘family’: the building’s office provision had to grow by some 50 per cent and the public spaces by 25 per cent.
The two main departments of the European court, the Court itself and the Commission, occupy two circular chambers, clad in stainless steel, at the head of the building. The entrance hall is a classic RRP interior, light-filled and with fine views out over the river. The ‘tail’ of the building divided into two parts, contains offices and administration and the judge’s chambers. Functions are clearly legible. Only the main public spaces, focussing on a stone-paved rotunda, are air-conditioned (using an economical heat-exchange system). The remainder of the building relies on natural ventilation (and light) and opening windows – marking a new era in the practice’s work. Façades provide for a high degree of planting: greenery is now well established and spills down from the roofs.
The building is a powerful and highly rational expression of the function it serves but is imbued too with a Mendelsohnian streak of romantic expressionism.