The geography of Justice

By Caitlin Dagher

Kununurra Courthouse (Image: Iredale Pedersen Hook Architects)

The La Trobe Space of Justice Symposium for 2017 was a 3-day event, during early July, held at both the La Trobe City Campus and Neighbourhood Justice Centre in Collingwood. The Symposium covered a broad range of topics, ranging from Architecture and Design of the Courtrooms to Gender and Indigenous Justice.

I attended the Symposium as a volunteer purely out of curiosity, with the expectation of having very minimal interactions with the attendees, the likes of retired judges and academics, and rather the belief that I would be exclusively involved in the behind the scenes requirements, such as setting up the room or providing directions to those looking a bit lost. However, much to both my surprise and delight, my experience hardly reassembled that of my expectations.

Instead, I found myself as a member of the Symposium in a way I would have never imagined, whereby I spent the majority of my time listening to the presentations and engaging in meaningful conversation with countless attendees on topics I had no previous interest nor understanding of.

The Architecture of Justice: Kununurra Courthouse

Most notably, the topic of Architecture of Justice ran by Dr Martyn Hook, the Dean of Architecture and Design at RMIT University and Director of Iredale Pedersen Hook Architecture.

As an individual who is heavily interested in the social sciences I saw no value nor had any interest in attending such a session. I entered with no understanding of the significance nor the influence of architecture on the pursuit of justice, believing that elaborate and modern court building were no more than an attempt at creating a pleasing aesthetic that would look good on a court’s homepage. However, I could not have been more wrong.

Dr Hook focused his presentation on the impact of architecture in relation to justice for Indigenous Australians. Thus, he spent most of his time explaining the particulars of the Kununurra Courthouse, located in East Kimberley, WA.

He began by outlining the problems with the previous courthouse and the way in which it was, more or less, a building representing white man’s law in a remote aboriginal community and as such was vandalised and seen as a menacing place by which the locals found no justice nor comfort.

Following this, he explained the in depth and comprehensive process his team had to undergo to address the problems of the last courthouse and create a place which mirrors the land of Kununurra. This was no easy feat as it required designing a place which was complementary to the community and therefore provide a justice which resonates with the people of Kununurra, to the extent that the materials of the land were used in the creation of the building and the roof is shaped in such a way as to respond to the complexities of the landscape it resides in.

At this point, I believe it’s necessary to provide an insight into my mind at the time of writing this post. I spent a considerable amount of time attempting to plan and find the words that give justice to the way in which Dr Martyn Hook was able to explain the complexities and the nuances of architecture in the courtroom. I also sat at my desk, with very little success, as I attempted to put into words the amount his presentation resonated with and fascinated me, completely changed my outlook on architecture and its’ vital importance in the deliverance of justice.

With an interest in psychology, I am very aware of the effects of our environment on our thinking and our emotions at any given time, as well as the importance of our culture and need to protect our identity as an almost innate need. Hence, when Dr Hook explained that all the buildings in the town were disrespected and vandalised, I found it of no surprise and didn’t believe any ‘white man’s building’ placed in such a remote and removed town would ever be treated as anything more than an invasion into an Indigenous community. Thus, when Dr Hook explained that the only building in Kununurra not vandalised, nor disrespected by the people, was this new courthouse I was naturally shocked.

He then went on to discuss the courthouse as a non-confrontation place, whereby natural light and native artwork and designs filled the building to create a place of safety and belonging. Finally, he finished by stating the way in which children now play in the gardens of the courtroom and how the building has become the centre of this isolated town, seen as a place of fairness and reassurance.

Hence, I walked away from the Symposium with an entirely new outlook on the elements of justice and all the intricacies that contribute to it being holistically delivered. I found the Symposium to be both an educative and thought-provoking experience and cannot wait to see what the next one has in store.

Caitlin Dagher is in her first year of her Undergraduate Degree in Law/Psychological Sciences and Diploma in Languages: French at La Trobe University.

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