Marc Trabsky on Coronial Architecture and Memories of the Dead

In ‘The Custodian of Memories: Coronial Architecture in Nineteenth-century Melbourne’, Marc Trabsky, Lecturer at La Trobe Law School and Editor of the Law and Justice blog, explores the development of coronial architecture as a distinctive genre of legal architecture in Australia in the nineteenth century. Published in Volume 24, Issue 2 of the Griffith Law Review, the article examines “how architectural techniques affected the way in which the coroner cultivated technical, intimate and spatial relations between the living and the dead”. Marc analyses the innovative use of a hermetically sealed glass screen in the construction of Melbourne’s first purpose-built coroner’s courthouse, which separated the mortuary from the inquest room, as instituting “new techniques for inventorying the dead”.

The design of the courthouse constructed a forum for the living to view and converse with the dead, which had as its aim the preservation of collective memory.

Marc concludes that “courthouse architecture in the late nineteenth century linked the performance of the office of the coroner to the role of custodian of memories of the dead”. This article is not only significant insofar as the genre of coronial architecture has remained unexamined, but it can help architects and lawyers think about the ways in which architecture affects relations between legal institutions and the dead.

Marc Trabsky