Hamilton County Coroner’s Office & Crime Lab

Architect:  SmithGroup & KZF Design

Owner:  Hamilton County  Board of Commissioners

Location: Blue Ash, Ohio

Category: General

Despite its highly specific use, this 83,500-square-foot facility located in an inner-ring Cincinnati suburb connects visually and physically with its context. It replaces an overcrowded 40-year-old facility that regularly faced a loss of accreditation and forced staff into uncomfortable working conditions. Carefully integrated into its context, which includes tree-lined streets, pedestrian pathways, and public green spaces, the new Hamilton County Coroner’s Office and Crime Lab offers a much gentler experience for staff and visitors.

The need for the facility was highlighted in a scathing 2012 report that outlined the former building’s serious operational and life safety issues. Staff, regularly working around-the-clock shifts to keep up with the workload caused by the opioid crisis, were often forced to perform office functions in the lab spaces. In addition, corridors were used as storage spaces, and an inadequate sallyport did not support the proper screening of decedents.  

"The design organizes the program in a way that brings light and people together, encouraging collaboration and providing a healthy environment." - Jury Comment

In the new building, the entry lobby is better equipped to welcome an array of visitors, from grieving family members arriving to consult with pathologists to members of law enforcement investigating a crime. Adjacent to the lobby, a 150-seat auditorium supports the office’s community outreach efforts. The auditorium’s flat floor and retractable seating provide the flexibility to host conferences and other community events that can spill out to an exterior patio.

Further inside, the crime lab comprises six discrete sections. Office and lab spaces for the forensic scientists working there are organized around a central glazed corridor. The autopsy portion of the facility supports respectful death investigations, and decedents are received and released to funeral homes through a screened sallyport. Staff can find respite from the stress of their essential work in a third-floor break room and covered roof deck that overlooks the surrounding neighborhood.

"This building showcases state-of-the-art building science to help staff do their most meaningful work." - Jury Comment

“The design organizes the program in a way that brings light and people together, encouraging collaboration and providing a healthy environment,” said the jury. “This building showcases state-of-the-art building science to help staff do their most meaningful work.”

This new facility is a welcome addition to the community it serves. Grieving families are treated with dignity in a secluded family room as they seek closure on the cause of death of a loved one. The integrity of the staff is enhanced through the architecture, which provides spaces both transparent yet screened from view. Staff report feeling excited to report to work in the modern, light-filled environment.

Additional information

 Assoc Architect:  KZF Design    

Engineering - Civil: KZF Design    

Engineering - MEP: SmithGroup / KZF Design  

Engineering - Structural: KZF Design    

General Contractor: Monarch Construction Inc.    

Landscape Architect: Vivan Llambi & Assoc.

Jury

Danielle Appello, AIA, Wight & Company, Chicago IL

Gregory Cook, AIA, PendulumARC Consulting, LLC, Charleston,  SC

Jamie Fields, City of Fayetteville Police Department, Fayetteville, AR

Marcus Hardy, Hardy & Associates, LLC, Lockport, IL

Brian Meade, AIA (Chair), FGM Architects, Inc, Oak Brook IL

Teri du Temple, BC Corrections, Nanaimo, BC, Canada

David Yamasaki, Orange County Courts Administration, Santa Ana, CA

Image credits

Hamilton County Coroner’s Office & Crime Lab-03

Wade Griffith Photography

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Wade Griffith Photography

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Wade Griffith Photography

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Wade Griffith Photography

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Wade Griffith Photography