North Elevation of the new Ralph L Carr Colorado Justicial Center
I spent two days this past week participating in an elaborate dedication ceremony for the new Ralph L Carr Colorado Justicial Center in Denver. Wowhaus was awarded one of the highly competetive public art commissions for the new building, a modernist riff on classical temple architecture featuring a soaring, circular atrium capped with a transparent glass dome. The building was designed by Fentriss Architects, who are probably best know for their now iconic, tensile-tented Denver International Airport.
It wasn’t as easy as you’d think spotting the eight participating artists in an atrium chock full of attorneys, judges, state representatives, clerks, former governors (4) and all of their entourages. Colorado is very proud of its reputation as a renegade state and the majority of its legislative practitioners trend towards Maverick in both style and substance. For every ‘rep’ tie, blue blazer and pair of horn-rimmed glasses there was a goatee, wild mane and bolero. From the many conversations I had over the two days, I found the circuit judges from small rural towns to be the most colorful and candid. One gentleman regaled me with detailed questions about my art practice, then made the bold assertion that what artists and judges have in common is that we are both ‘truth seekers’ by nature.
A boisterous crowd gathers in the atrium of the new Judicial Center.
I was inspired by the unexpectedly high-minded tenor of the occasion, having given little thought to the life of the building beyond the initial inception for our sculpture that is now knitted into the building’s functional and visual identity. I was equally surprised and delighted by how interested the principle speakers were in the design of the building and integrated artworks, how much they know about every nuance.
Granted, everyone was on their game; the keynote speaker was Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, predeeded by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and Colorado Supreme Court Justice Michael Bender, but something about the combined speeches and subsequant conversations rose above mere good form and comportment. Something about the level of enthusiasm for the new building and the artworks it contained, a shared passion for the value of place, beauty and order, convinced me that they really, really meant what they were saying. They truly believed that the Rule of Law is the very pillar of civilization, a sacred if imperfect, hand crafted experiment subject to the vagaries of time, technology and temperment, and that the majesty of the Law, its transparency and logic, could be made manifest in the design and implementation of a building and its contents.
A view of Tsuru, our cast bronze sculpture integrated into the building’s interior courtyard.
Mostly, the occasion gave me insight into the design-consciousness of the legal mindset, and made me proud to have contributed in some concrete way to the contextual backdrop in the ongoing pursuit of the Rule of Law, however obliquely. The occasion restored my faith in the persistance of narrative, especially in an age of the perpetual Now. I hadn’t realized the extent to which symbols, even physical places and guided experiences in the form of art and architecture can actually carry complex and meaningful narratives, let alone the role these narratives can play in everyday life. Perhaps as we lurch into the perpetual present tense required of us as we negotiate digitally-mediated technologies, media and commerce, we will begin to rely more on the substance and integrity of physical place to frame the narrative and remind us of our better selves in the process.
To read more about the development of our Tsuru Project for the Ralph L Carr Colorado Judicial Center, click here and scroll down.