Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Justice Center
This tribal community-use facility in the heart of an ancestral home responds to an increased demand for space dedicated to the judicial process. Its accomplishment involved a non-tribal design team working with the Pima and Maricopa people to establish cross-cultural relationships and develop a deeper understanding of history, place, and justice in an evolving community.
The people of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian community have long called the Sonoran Desert and its Salt and Verde rivers home. Existing long before the state of Arizona and the sprawling Phoenix metropolis, this once solitary tribe is often regarded as an urban one. The border that now separates sovereign land from Phoenix is one of material and cultural divisions, providing the design team with an opportunity to forge new cross-cultural ties.
Given the context, it might be difficult to imagine that outsiders, especially ones of non-Native descent, would be entrusted with a vital project at the center of the tribe’s ancient city. But the team’s careful approach, focused on the community’s views of just use of its land, allowed it to explore the combination of Western court design goals and Indigenous sustainable systems. The result is a transformed court typology that connects directly to its context.
The program of the 93,000-square-foot building in the Sonoran Desert is distributed across two floors and organized around the landscape. It houses seven courtrooms that facilitate civil, criminal, juvenile, and appellate proceedings and the necessary office and administrative spaces to support the courtrooms.
But the team's careful approach, focused on the community's views of just use of its land, allowed it to explore the combination of Western court design goals and Indigenous sustainable systems.
The center’s entry is a gradual sequence of the enclosure, beginning with the adjacent landscape that morphs into a blend of architectural and tree canopy. Materials featured on the exterior continue inside, and concrete, echoing Pima and Maricopa construction methods, is used throughout. Reflecting on the tribes’ cultures, the team linked interior and adjacent exterior spaces, and the indigenous landscape surrounding the building seeps into the central courtyard. From the secure environment of the building, people can go outdoors for respite from the anxiety that often accompanies attending court.
Courtrooms are stacked and arranged for efficient circulation of all parties on the second level. Daylight and views of Red Mountain, a sacred landform from which the center’s skewed alignment takes its cues, provide additional relief from the stress of court proceedings.
At heart, the Pima and Maricopa are outdoor people, and the intentional permeability between the landscape and the building recalls that heritage. The landscape is integral in shaping the community’s perception of the center, and the intertwining of materials creates an array of imperfect but familiar and lasting spaces.