Due design process
Don't hate the summons: Downtown, jury duty gears up to go glam
Stilettos click-clack on stairways, bespoke gentlemen glide through galleries and stylish strangers make chitchat in in a vividly verdant setting. Is this Gramercy Park? Last week's Salone del Mobile in Milan? Perhaps the unveiling of the Galleria V?
Nay, it is a projected future scene of Houston's latest design venture — a public building that's set to go public in a big way: The reconceptualized Harris County Jury Assembly Room. Conceived by architect Ken Black of PageSoutherlandPage, the $13 million project promises a new take on a much-loathed aspect of the democratic process.
"The room itself is going to be really, really state-of-the-art," Harris County District Clerk Loren Jackson says.
The room will increase jury capacity from 750 to 1,000 seats, divided among four intimate rooms. Drop-down projector screens in each of the jury rooms enable Webcasts — meaning that a government bureaucrat may sit in his office and dictate to all four rooms simultaneously. We're keeping our ears perked to discover how each quadrant evolves into its own "personality."
The entry pavilion will double as a security checkpoint, ensuring that serving citizens may sit at ease.
Accounting for a full city block bound by Franklin, Caroline, Congress and San Jacinto Streets, the square previously represented one of those embarrassing holes in our downtown grid — a surface-level parking lot. Likewise, the current jury room stands as a dank testament to 1970s public architecture — faux wood paneling, burnt orange accoutrements and narrow hallways. Images of the new design indicate a breezy atmosphere with slick surfaces and iPod-white elements.
There's still no guarantee of an Inversion Coffeehouse or The Grove satellite, but count on free Wi-Fi access.
The future site also includes a comprehensive transportation plaza — the centerpiece of the recently consolidated Harris County Courts Complex.
Best of all? The new Jury Assembly Room and Transportation Plaza is being built underground, transforming the parking lot into green space and providing potential participants access to more parking garages. So in the summertime, high-maintenance jurors won't have to worry about makeup breakup or ditch the Hermès scarf on account of the humidity.
Beginning in 2011 (hopefully), jury hopefuls can whisk through subterranean hallways between civil, criminal, juvenile and family courts. The improved connectivity also allows four check-in times rather than the current twice-a-day regime.
"Construction was delayed," explains Rich Elwood, deputy director of the Harris County Construction Programs Division, "due to the massive rainfall between Thanksgiving and February. The site became a swimming pool.
"But we're back on track, and slated to open in the first quarter of 2011," he adds.
"After hours," advertises PageSoutherlandPage, "the space will be available to the public for approved activities."
We're hoping for charity balls and quinceañeras — the place to see and be seen after the gavel drops. Whether the court circuit will soon be the stomping grounds for high society remains to be seen, but we praise Harris County for foregoing asbestos and apathy in favor of clean lines and fast connections.