Power on a pedestal: How architecture creates, reinforces, and reflects power structures in the legal system

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Georgie Juszczyk


High Court of Australia, US Supreme Court, art, architecture, legal system, law


Architecture—the language of buildings—is a language of both beauty and function. Architecture creates, reinforces, and reflects power structures. It is both a form of art and a physical control. This paper seeks to explore the influence of architecture in the legal context by comparing the architecture of the High Court of Australia and the United States Supreme Court. Through their design and construction, each court tries to invoke certain ideologies and mythologies that justify and legitimise the role of the judiciary in our society as ‘impartial’ arbitrators. This paper reviews several architectural features of each court, explains how those architectural features contribute to the creation and maintenance of the aforementioned ideologies and mythologies, and then reflects on the utility of making such representations to society at large. Importantly, the paper explores more than just the symbology of the courts’ various ornamentation and artworks; instead, it looks to the meaning imparted by the structure of the buildings themselves, focusing the locus of research not on the courtroom but the court as a whole.

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