Justice Is Served (Downstairs)

law and order

The Justice System and Architecture should be opposing foes. While most architects are law-abiding citizens, architecture students are taught to “break the rules.” Rules become merely guidelines put in place to impede great architectural ideas. Therefore, architecture students interpret the intent of these guidelines to better execute an all-encompassing design. Whereas, the justice system’s rules have little interpretation. They are black or white. Guilty or fail. 

However, life doesn’t consist of just black or white; there are often several varying shades of grey.1

So one would assume that an establishment determining one’s fate, within this realm of black and white, would provide clear and precise instructions with circulation routes and proper signage prominently displayed.

Mesmerizingly, the designers of the Gallatin County Law & Justice Center must have deleted all emails with the red exclamation mark. Instead, insisting on all visitors to experience an unnerving cloudy grey purgatory, with an elevated sense of law & order induced vertigo. 


The last time I “visited” the Law & Justice Center, I was merely a witness who simply needed to state the events I observed. However, the experience of entering this facility was so unnerving that I became a horrible witness.2

My testimony went something like this:

  • Opposing Council: Can you state the number of alcoholic beverages you consumed the day in question?
  • Me: Umm, the day in question was 14 months ago, but I think I had a couple cocktails throughout the afternoon.
  • Opposing Council: Did you know that a person with your approximate body weight can only intake 2 beers or 2 shots of alcohol within a timespan of 5 hours before experiencing memory loss or having a “cloudy recollection” of events?
  • Me: Umm, yeah I guess.
  • Opposing Council: Do you think you consumed over 2 beers or 2 shots of alcohol within a 5 hour timespan?
  • Me: Umm, probably.
  • Judge: Thank you. You may step down.

The confusion begins at the parking lot. 

If a person seeking to pay a parking ticket even found the building, they would have no idea where to park. There is one parking lot with faded lines consisting of signage declaring Reserved Judicial Office.3 And then there is another parking lot with several No Parking signs along the roadway, then a sign saying Extra Parking, followed by a sign stating Law Enforcement Parking Only. 

There are numerous non-government vehicles in this “Law Enforcement Parking Only” lot, but I would assume if you parked in a dedicated Police Car parking spot they would expeditiously call the tow truck company,4 and then you would have to return to court another day for “obstruction of justice.”

After tentatively parking your car, you then approach the nondescript building. There are several stairs followed by two sets of entrance doors. Sorry, if you need to use the elevator you have to follow the signage pointing towards the Detention Center; thus already failing in your quest to pay your parking ticket.

If you are not handicapped, you would now proceed towards the unassuming stairs. Unfortunately, this is where you need to become Neo from the Matrix and have to make a life-altering decision, the red pill or the blue pill. However, in this case you are given the choice of two doors. One door will successfully lead you into the building. The other door will be a dead end.

Therefore, just like a Choose Your Own Mystery novel, I now leave you, the gentle reader, with your fate in your own hands.

To pay your parking ticket you first must choose Either Door A, or Door B.

Choose correctly and you may proceed to pay your parking ticket. However, choose incorrectly and you will be deemed incompetent and should be removed from civilization.

Unless you are Encyclopedia Brown, you probably chose Door A and initially thought, “Success? More stairs to climb.” But if you chose Door B, you literally run into a wall.

Now the visitor has already tentatively parked their car, climbed the stairs, entered a door, and climbed additional stairs.

Now finally! They probably assume their journey to pay their parking ticket is almost over.

Nope. Now they are greeted with a large landing, and after looking around for any sort of signage, they finally look down a large flight of stairs with indiscriminate signage telling you to descend back down to the parking lot level to finally pay your parking ticket – where you now have wait in line for another 30 minutes.


Psychologically, I wonder if they want to give you the feeling of being elevated, only to reach the pinnacle and realize you must go back downstairs into the unknown depths of the dungeon to reach your ultimate fate.

There is a saying in life that “sometimes you have to go backwards to go forwards.”
However, only in poorly designed buildings do you have to go upstairs to go downstairs.

Along with the Judicial System, Code Officials also are the ideal nemesis for Architects. Code officials exist in the realm of black or white. Your building is either deficient or acceptable. This is probably why architects dress in all black and design buildings clad in all white, to outwardly appear to code officials that you both have the same ideals. But we don’t.

The Law & Justice Center was retrofitted from a former Catholic High School, but I’d rather assume the architect wanted stairs to (unnecessarily) expand across the entryway to allow for a sitting vestibule on the additional stair risers. Until the code official forced them to include another arbitrary door to meet egress requirements, and then also had to put an intermediate handrail at the end of the stairs to meet all code requirements – regardless if the person using the handrail would run straight into a wall.



Sure, this building is in dire need of being upgraded.5 Even city leaders argued that the current building is becoming overcrowded, making it difficult to properly store files and maintain seized evidence.6

Thus, they acquired land, hired an architect to provide a schematic design, and put a bond initiative on last November’s ballot for a brand new Law and Justice Center. I am usually supportive of constructing civic projects, since I like the idea of architects having a role within the development of a city.

However, this bond initiative was dramatically rejected, and the current city leaders are “miffed” for the reasons why, yet will still attempt to put it on next year’s ballot again. 

I do not currently pay property taxes,7 but this new Justice Center would increase the average household’s property taxes by $90 per year. This may have been a partial deciding factor for voters, but there are several other overriding reasons why there is no apparent need for a new facility if city officials remain miffed.

The new renderings for the building look nice. Nevertheless, if you show ghosted images of people frolicking and a woman pushing a stroller it will always promote an idea of community acceptance and safety. Regardless if the lady pushing the stroller will literally cross the street into a concrete plant, followed by train tracks.

The current facility could be remodeled or expanded to accommodate any necessary growth and there is a plethora of vacant land around the current facility to allow for this expansion.


Therefore, here is a modified rendering of the new and improved Law & Justice Center – complete with woman, baby stroller, and a lens flair added for dramatic effect.


I actually applaud the Bozeman City Officials for attempting to be proactive. All too often people are too scared of inevitable change and prefer to live by the motto: “If it ain’t broke. Don’t fix it.” However, sometimes something isn’t completely broken, but just needs mending or could use improvement.

Unlike the justice system, life isn’t always black and white. Sometimes there are shades of grey, and opportunities abound within this grey void. Moreover, if the City of Bozeman wishes to hire me as an architectural consultant before the next election, I only charge a modest fee. ;)  



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1 Sometimes even 50 Shades of Grey.
2 That and the fact the lawyer didn’t want to brief me on what I should say, in order have my testimony sound unrehearsed and more “authentic.” Note to lawyers: brief your witnesses.
3 I hate the concept of Reserved Parking. One would assume that the owners of the facility would prefer to have actual patrons of the building park in the most convenient spaces. I don’t know how many times I go to the courthouse, see 9 vacant parking spots, only to realize they are all reserved for the Mayor’s Office.
4 This would probably be the only time paperwork within the police department was filed in a timely manner.
5 Regardless of the lead paint and asbestos in the walls.
6 Apparently, the City of Bozeman hasn’t heard of the concept of rentable storage units.
7 Yes, I currently rent an amazing house for a reasonable rate, so please tell my landlord that I too am amazing and he should never raise our rental price.

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