This horrible structure replaced the previous courthouse on Robson Square which is now the home of the Vancouver Art Gallery. This beautiful neoclassical building was designed in 1905 by architect Francis Rattenbury, who was also responsible for the BC Legislature Building and the Empress Hotel, both in Victoria.
The new courthouse looms over its surroundings in a manner that can only be described as menacing. The top stories overhang the sidewalks like the fortified parapets of some dungeon or the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. The grey concrete walls create a threatening atmosphere of gloom in the neighbourhood that isn't dispelled by the pathetic vegetation struggling to grow on various ledges and terraces.
The court complex consists of two buildings straddling Smithe Street which are connected by a pedestrian walkway, which makes the whole thing indistinguishable from a highway overpass.
When I look at this building, I'm reminded of George Orwell's description of the Ministry of Truth in his novel 1984:
The Ministry of Truth - Minitrue in Newspeak - was startlingly different from any other object in sight. It was an enormous pyramidal structure of glittering white concrete, soaring up, terrace after terrace, three hundred metres into the air.
The Ministry of Truth contained, it was said, three thousand rooms above ground level, and corresponding ramifications below. Scattered about London there were just three other buildings of similar appearance and size. So completely did they dwarf the surrounding architecture that from the roof of Victory Mansions you sould see all four of them simultaneously. They were the homes of the four Ministries between which the entire apparatus of government was divided.
The Greco-Roman design of the old courthouse speaks in a vocabulary of tradition and democracy; the business of the law conducted here traced its lineage to ancient Athens and the Roman Republic. It was the public face of the legal system and reassured citizens that they lived in a democratic society where individual rights were protected by the rule of law. The new courthouse speaks in a vocabulary of totalitarianism - it is cold, ugly, dominant and oppressive. Here, the individual has no importance in the apparatus of the State.
It must be a frightening experience to be the subject of a legal proceding in this forbidding building. I can't imagine what it would be like to have to work in it every day.