Insulated wall panels enclose justice center in greater Chicago area
Panels provide durable, energy-saving enclosure
Facade aesthetics help blend bulding with revitalized urban neighborhood
Panels produced under agreement with AltusGroup, Inc.
Precast Justice Center Makes the Case for Urban Renewal
“You wouldn't know it's a jail. It's one of the more beautiful buildings in the downtown area,” says the director of corrections for a heartland city’s new justice facility. Taking the place of a formerly blighted 12-acre urban area, this new 385,000 square foot justice center offers a fresh, community-consensus aesthetic that is transparent, safe and secure.
The insulated wall panel justice center is designed to blend with surrounding architecture and to advance the community’s vision for urban renewal. Inside, the 1,212-bed direct-supervision facility, with more than 200 corrections officers, is intended to create an environment that encourages good behavior among inmates. The direct supervision model is designed to allow monitoring and control of the housing unit from a single-officer station.
Local officials and the design team consulted extensively with community leaders during the planning and design phases. Out of these discussions came a mandate to avoid stereotypical correctional exteriors. Instead, designers proposed a multi-layered envelope with varying textures of brick, concrete and glass that looks like a modern office building.
The $142 million complex is situated next to several low- and mid-rise buildings and abuts a transitional residential development. To create a visual and psychological transition from urban environment to residential neighborhood, the design team chose to recess the complex away from the street. A park-like plaza anchors one corner of the site, while landscaping around the perimeter, together with the variable layers, lines, colors and textures of the buildings, helps the complex assimilate into its surroundings.
“The greatest challenge with this project emerged with the realization that it was in essence two different projects combined — a public courthouse and a secure detention facility — that involve different time cycles, requirements, imperatives and objectives,” says the architect. “The question became, ‘How do we create an open public area on one side and a completely secure area on the other?’”
The conceptual plan evolved into a public building with a detention facility inside it, which significantly changed the security and design strategy. The team chose a “podular” approach, with separate housing units designed to function as self-contained units, accommodating up to 64 inmates each. The pods contain communal dayroom space, recreational/exercise space, kitchen and laundry facilities, medical examination rooms and video visitation access points.
The facility is designed around a 2,000-square-foot data center with multiple data rooms and an information technology infrastructure that will allow flexibility in managing operations and expandability to meet future needs.
The jail is equipped with a central segregation unit designed to house troublesome or special-category inmates. However, county officials hope that dedicated classroom space for rehabilitation, education and counseling programs will encourage inmates to develop positive, productive social behaviors, which will help turn their lives around when they return to the community.
The justice center replaced an older, overcrowded facility that saw up to five inmate-on-inmate fights per day. The new facility was in operation for more than six weeks before an incident occurred.
Outside, the center's precast cladding panels are faced in red thin brick with a “faux limestone” mix comprising white cement, limestone and buff pigment that was used as banding as well as the “mortar joint” material. Two other mixes were also used, as was a contrasting charcoal-color brick that helped to break up the scale. A bold bullnose accent near the base of the panels creates a strong horizontal line that adds strength and dimensionality to the facade. Inside a terrazzo atrium foyer leads to courtroom areas via a security screening check point. The mezzanine of glass, steel and terrazzo is designed to enhance openness and light in the center's public space.
The first nod to sustainability came with the location of the new center, which involved the brown field redevelopment of a downtown lot long blighted by neglect and urban decay. Many of the construction materials for the project were also locally sourced.
The design team incorporated a comprehensive storm water management system, while an energy-efficient power plant was designed specifically for the facility. Energy-efficient equipment and appliances were utilized where practicable.
The facility also makes extensive use of daylighting throughout public and courthouse spaces. Constrained by the safety and security parameters of the facility's detention component, the design team opted to use translucent glass in the jail space that allows daylighting but prevents inmates from looking out.
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