08 June 2011

Columbus, Ohio Builds Perv Friendly Courthouse

Somebody forgot that in engineering, function should always trump form, particularly functional aspects that matter to your key constituents. The snafu in a $105 million court house in Columbus, Ohio was clear when it opened on Monday.

The central stairs of the new Franklin County Common Pleas Courthouse seem almost to float up from the ground floor, suspended in a foyer of light and glass.

However, the aesthetic appeal of the stairway has an unfortunate side-effect in a building where judges sentence sex offenders: People can see up a woman's skirt from the busy walkway under the stairs.

"If you wear dresses, you're on notice that you might want to take the elevator, as I will be doing," said Judge Julie M. Lynch, who wears dresses exclusively to work.

Although it's probably best not to advertise the issue for fear of abuse, people partial to skirts, dresses and kilts have a right to know about the risk, Lynch said.

From here (the Court of Common Pleas in Franklin County is the court of general jurisdiction handling felonies and large claim civil cases in Columbus, Ohio).

The problem is particularly unimpressive because the issue is a familiar one in new public building projects. I'd be willing to guess that there weren't any women or acrophobics on this engineering design team.

The county is aware of the issue and has discussed whether anything needs to be done, said Jim Goodenow, director of public facilities management.

For now, security guards have been told to keep an eye out for people craning their necks. If the design becomes a problem, the county can adjust the glass to make it less transparent, but officials are hoping not to disrupt the artistic integrity of the building. . . .

When glass stairs and walkways first came out, [one of the engineering executives who builds them for Apple computer properties] Zorn said, he remembers looking up at an elevated walkway at an airport and wondering how the designers had missed the fact that skirts were going to be a problem. Most engineers know enough to use some well-placed opaque glass and careful design to avoid the problem, he said.

A similar design for a recent renovation at nearby Ohio State University's main library was nixed at the design stage for this reason and because of "the fear some people have of standing on clear glass."

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