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Judging in Place: Architecture, Design, and the Operation of Courts


  • Keith J. Bybee

  • I thank Susan Silbey for organizing a conference panel on law and architecture that stimulated my thinking on the subject.

Keith J. Bybee is Paul E. and Hon. Joanne F. Alper ‘72 Judiciary Studies Professor at Syracuse University College of Law and Professor of Political Science at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Correspondence may be sent to


What can judicial architecture tell us about how courts function? In this essay, I examine Legal Architecture: Justice, Due Process, and the Place of Law (2011) by Linda Mulcahy and Representing Justice: Invention, Controversy, and Rights in City-States and Democratic Courtrooms (2011) by Judith Resnik and Dennis Curtis. I argue that both books develop an understanding of judicial architecture as a socially contingent form of communication. I relate this expressive theory of architecture to older arguments about design and construction articulated by poet and novelist Victor Hugo and architect Frank Lloyd Wright. I also briefly explore the connections between this developing “jurisprudence of what's real” and more conventional forms of law-and-courts scholarship.