Highly Commended 2023

Bendigo Law Courts


Bendigo Law Courts involved strong partnerships between stakeholders with the intent of dignifying court experience and improving access to justice.

Delivering accessible, culturally sensitive, and responsive justice to the Loddon-Mallee region, the Bendigo Law Courts (BLC) is the first in Victoria to integrate a full suite of specialist courts including family violence and Koori courts. Also the first with dedicated circulation reserved for vulnerable persons and separate remote witness and safe waiting facilities.

A civic space, visually and culturally anchored to Bendigo’s unique identity, it's informed by culture, knowledge and connection of the Dja Dja Wurrung, Bendigo’s Traditional Owners in partnership with Court Services Victoria (CSV). The design ambition was to dignify the court experience and improve access to justice.

Design Brief:

Key design principles of the brief were established to guide the design:

  • Inclusive court - offering transparency and access to justice;
  • People orientated - calming, soothing material selections and access to daylight;
  • Culture of place - strong connection back to Country and Bendigo City

We achieved this with an interior palette featuring warm, natural, tactile materials to inspire composure and diminish tension. The culture and traditions of the Dja Dja Wurrung People and local crafts and trades which are evident around and within the building fabric, imparting a sense of place and gravitas.

There has been a dire need for a contemporary, fit for purpose regional court. The previous historically significant heritage court was operationally outdated with poor customer experience and inconsistent with user and staff needs. The building design places people at its centre, underpinning a functional, safe, and accessible court that meets the needs of its many users.

This project was developed by:

Design Process

Many people were part of the imagining, planning, funding, designing, cultural inclusion, and construction needed to make this court operationally excellent and a civic asset to be proud of.

Over 200 end user (public, custody, justice users etc.) sessions were undertaken throughout the project phases by both client and the design team. Working closely with the court users to accommodate their day to day needs and aspirations for a new facility. Law professionals were generous with their time and knowledge of how the courts functioned best for their needs and the diverse needs of a vulnerable person attending court.

Stakeholder sessions included interactive workshops which included role planning and detailed program discussions, site visits to establish consistent benchmarks and virtual reality prototyping allowing fast interactive decision making.

We collaborated with the Dja Dja Wurrung and local artists and trades, to embed artwork into the building fabric. Working closely with the Dja Dja Wurrung Elders provided the design team with the opportunity to learn about the importance of lore and hear first-hand stories of significance.

Initially there was no sustainability brief, we encouraged our client on a journey to certification. Happily they were keen to provide leadership to other government bodies by undertaking sustainability certification. The project was originally aiming for a 5-star rating however with commitment from all stakeholders the outcome improved with 6 Star Green Star V1.2 design and targeting the same result with as-built (Certified).

Extensive peer review of the project was undertaken by the design team and our client. This entailed detailed reports and protype reviews by independent specialist architects to interrogate and push the design to ensure the built outcome maximized the opportunities for the client and community. Site visits across Victoria, Queensland and Canberra reviewed existing court buildings and extracted lessons from staff onsite.

Design Excellence

The architecture expresses the quality and values required of a contemporary user-centred court facility. Engagement with the culture of place, through the connections with the built, regional, and cultural heritage, anchors the new Bendigo Law Courts firmly as part of, and for, the community.

By developing a clear brief with our client, we were able to introduce design elements that elevated the building from functional to a benchmark project in its field. Clear views outside, abundant natural light, and access to outdoor terraces without exiting the building, for example. The design places people at its centre.

An empathetic design approach frames the interior concepts. The selection of natural tones and textures to each floor are differentiated by its design reference to specific native flora of the region. The interior palette features warm, natural, tactile materials to imbue calmness and diminish tension. Navigation of public spaces is intuitive and legible.

The settings for artworks are located to define key moments within the building. Each was commissioned to speak to the locale and living culture. Embedding the art into the fabric of the building prefaces the significant culture, lore, and tradition of Djaara and expert craftsmanship of the region. From Bunjil perforated into the copper façade through to burnt etchings into the courtroom bar tables. Coloured ceramic wall tiles were developed with Bendigo Pottery and are featured in the double-height public foyer.

There are multipurpose spaces and advanced technological capabilities integrated through courtrooms, work areas and public spaces to improve the efficiency of court operations. Dedicated workspaces for agencies, bookable meeting rooms and private nooks provide comfortable flexible working conditions and privacy for sensitive conversations.

The project exemplifies environmental design excellence with 6 Star Green Star V1.2 design, targeting as-built certification also. The project has over 90% local material and labour content.

Design Innovation

There had been a dire need for a contemporary, fit for purpose regional court. The previous historically significant heritage court was operationally outdated with poor customer experience and inconsistent with user and staff needs. The importance of accessibility and flexibility cannot be understated, particularly for regional communities like Bendigo that are not located in one central place.

The aim of these law courts is to create a space which supports the people and organisations who use them. We can see this in the open plan design and natural lighting, the safe waiting areas and the ability for parties to remain separate from each other.

The operating model means that regardless of which court someone is attending, they will have access to services in spaces that are calm, secure and comfortable and importantly, located in one place.

The building is architecturally significant. Its design reflects the culture of the Traditional Owner’s and Bendigo’s more recent heritage as a mining town. Every day many of those passing by or entering the courts will see the spectacular design of Bunjil, the ancestral creator and knowledge keeper on Bendigo's skyline. Once inside, Bunjil's silhouette, along with the other beautiful artworks by the Djaara artists stand as symbols of the Dja Dja Wurrung's unbroken connection to land, to community and to culture.

Accessible and efficient courts contribute to public confidence in the justice system and the introduction of the Koori Court is an example of how increased confidence in the system can be achieved.

Court processes are very intimidating. But having Koori Court officers meet those involved in hearings to explain the system will play an integral role in helping them understand their interactions with the court. Dignifying the court experience aims to enhance the prospect of healing and positive behavioural change where it's required.

Design Impact

The ambition for the Bendigo Law Courts was to build a contemporary courthouse that sits within the community to serve the community with the intention of providing a facility with its foundations in culture, community and service. Featuring a Koori Court, Assessment and Referral Court and specialist family violence court. The building has 11 courtrooms in total including two hearing rooms, two mediation suites, remote witness facilities, safe waiting facilities, dedicated jury areas and meeting rooms. Importantly the space is culturally safe and welcoming for all participants.

An artwork by Indigenous artist Racquel Kerr in collaboration with DJAARA, Court Services Victoria and Wardle, ‘Bunjil’ – a wedge tail eagle, soars across the perforated copper façade. Bunjil’s presence and a forecourt landscape designed with Djaara artists are reminders of the importance of lore and a statement of living culture. The benefits of human centered justice design will be borne out by the capacity to address offending behaviour and reduce reoffending in the community.

The design aligns with key recommendations from the Royal Commission into Family Violence including a specialist family violence court and separate building entrances, remote witness facilities and discrete meeting rooms. The Koori court and associated spaces for Indigenous users allows culturally sensitive hearings.

The BLC will achieve a 6 Star Green Star (Design & As Built) rating, making it the first certified 6 Star court building in Australia. The project will be carbon neutral in its operation through reduced building operational loads and Green Power Purchase agreement by the client. Certification will be granted twelve months after completion, Dec 2023. Featuring materials that reference the precinct and city context, while defining the culture of place, the BLC actively engages with the city’s built and cultural heritage and elevates the new courthouse as a transformative contribution to the region.

Circular Design and Sustainability Features

The BLC will achieve a 6 Star Green Star (Design & As Built) rating, making it the first certified 6 Star court building in Australia. The project will be carbon neutral in its operation through reduced building operational loads and Green Power Purchase agreement by the client. Certification will be granted twelve months after completion, Dec 2023.

Our client didn’t provide a sustainability brief, we were able to encourage them on a journey to certification, happily they were keen to provide leadership to other government bodies and we were able to employ our expertise for designing enduring public buildings. Originally the project was aiming for a 5-star rating but we’re pleased to report that commitment from all stakeholders has improved the outcome as described above.

Some of the initiatives include façade and skylight shading and high performing glass, metering and monitoring of building performance, acoustic comfort is critical in a building of this nature, the BLC has exceptionally high standard of compliance. End of life waste performance is part of the certification and covered by a formal commitment by the owner to extend the life of finishes to all common areas by at least 10 years.

Materials were chosen for their composition, local availability, traceability and recyclability. The project also sourced expert and skilled local labour and craft achieving 92% Local Industry commitment (LIDP) including the creation of 390 construction jobs.

The building contractor is a joint venture with a local contractor. Brickwork was supplied by a local manufacturer, likewise Bendigo Pottery has supplied and manufactured custom designed wall tiles, and Jacaranda Industries were on board for specialist internal timber joinery. Integration of artwork into the built fabric, collaborations with First Nations artists sees the new courthouse as a place made by community for all to take pride in.

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