Yesterday I was here, in the stupidestly-designed courthouse on God’s brutally-baked brown desert earth — the Sandra Day O’Connor Courthouse in sunny Phoenix, Arizona. It is truly a marvel of architectural arrogance: Imagine being so utterly uninterested in anything besides how you’d like your box of Erector Set pieces to look like at the award ceremony that you design a massive building, notionally meant for human habitation, that is actually a gigantic greenhouse that grabs scorching-hot sunbeams from one of the hottest atmospheres on the continent and just plays them across a massive, uncoolable interior atrium.
This monster has an evil twin in my own neighborhood, named after the entirely more prosaic former U.S. Senator and ur-fixer Alfonse D’Amato, in his home turf in Long Island. The “other” U.S. Courthouse for the Eastern District of New York (its better-known and far-better-loved older sibling overlooks the Brooklyn Bridge) is every bit as soulless and unconnected to how people use built space. Like the Arizona torture chamber, this one features cold, ornament-free, angular hard white spaces, a soaring atrium and a complete denial of the human spirit. Both feature vast plazas requiring five minutes of walking from the curb to the front door that, when shown on the architect’s drawings, must have depicted lunchtime building workers gaily eating their lunches, taking in the sun, flirting and strumming guitars — a true communitarian dream in federal jurisprudential space, and far enough from any possible truck bomb to make those shared moments entirely carefree.
But no has ever relaxed in either one of these plazas. The one in Central Islip is too windblown to hang out in, the D’Amato tower truly epitomizing the concept of a white elephant as the only building of its scale for what must be 20 miles all around — a largely empty monument to federally funded megalomania. On almost any day the sun beats off the bright white surfaces so intensely that polarized lenses are de rigeur and blinded lawyers quickly scurry across the plaza through the revolving-door entrance and into the heartless, icy lobby. But this same formula truly amounts to a miniature Judicial Conference death valley in Phoenix.
Although the plaza there is far more modest in scale than the runway in front of the D’Amato building, it just sits there cooking all the long Arizona day; despite the tepid touch of a marginal fountain far from where it could do any good, the space is uninhabitable. And the payoff here, upon entry into the waiting arms of this edifice of equity? Arizona’s own stuffy closet of justice, an atrium appropriate for grabbing and concentrating sun rays perhaps in the snow belt or even the North Pole. But in Phoenix, where this week temperatures topped 100 degrees, the glass box merely guarantees a hopeless waste of BTU’s. This transparent oven cannot be cooled, not by man; it can only brought down to a tolerable level — and that with the help of a series of improvised floor units that look like inverted wet-dry vacuums. The tepid lobby seems only briefly preferable to the blast furnace outside as the perspiring, suit-and-tie-bound visitor is whisked through security and up to the saving refrigeration of the windowless interior courtrooms.
By then, though, our visitor knows to a judicial likelihood that a more uncomfortable structure can not have been built for public use since the Goldwaters opened their general store in these parts. All fascinating, I’m sure you agree. The question is why God decided I should have two identical litigation matters, involving the same exact parties asserting the same exact claims against one another in a preposterous double-gauged money-spewing litigation shotgun, taking place across a continent in identically hopeless halls of hubris. I don’t know the answer, but I can hardly believe it’s a coincidence. Can you? The Phoenix trial is scheduled for July 15th. Cool, huh?