oa Fundamina : A Journal of Legal History - Designs of the times : the remaking of South African and Dutch courtroom architecture during the 1990s

Volume 13 Number 2
  • ISSN : 1021-545X
  • E-ISSN: 2411-7870



The essay begins by exploring how the Ministerie van Justitie (Department of Justice) in the Netherlands has turned to courtroom architecture in order to symbolically underwrite fundamental changes in Dutch law and legal culture. It then situates the tapestries by Marlene Dumas within the context of this governmental project. I argue that although they had been commissioned to support the high-tech image of a completely business-like judiciary, Dumas actually highlights the limitations of this judicial self-concept and its reduction of justice (or ethics) to the administration of justice (or law). The second part of the essay explores the architecture of the South African Constitutional Court building and asks whether the metaphors which inform the design do any better to accommodate Dumas's implicit critique of modern law. I suggest that they don't, but that the power of the design lies precisely in the disruption that it causes within the institutional and physical space of law.

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