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JAN - JUN 2021



AMAURY GREIG  |  Renzo Piano Building Workshop 
ELSA LAM  |  Editor, Canadian Architect
JULIUS LANG  |  Community Justice Expert, former Sr. Advisor at Center for Court Innovation
JACOB M. KUMMER  |  Montgomery Sisam Architects, CAAJ Communications & Competition Co-chair
JULIAN JAFFARY  |  Justice Architecture Specialist, CAAJ Treasurer, AIA Liaison & Competition Co-chair



Congratulations to the winners of the 2021 Student Design Competition: Breaking the Cycle



The 2021 CAAJ International Student Design Competition, Breaking the Cycle - Designing for a Community Justice Centre, launched in January 2021 and was inspired by the need for transformative action across the justice system. Students from around the world were invited to re-think how justice is delivered and how new building typologies can help to address the root causes of crime and build more positive connections between justice and community.


Eighty-one competition entries were received from twenty-three different countries, including participation from two university studios in Turkey. The global response was also reflected in the selected sites located in twenty-six different countries. The collective responses to the objectives outlined in the brief were wide ranging, from pragmatic to visionary, and from fully developed buildings to expressive ideas and transdisciplinary solutions.


In reviewing all the entries, some observations can be made about common themes and strategies.


The competitors were asked to select a site in a community of their choice located anywhere in the world. Most competitors chose to locate their projects in underserved communities. These ranged from neighbourhoods with high concentrations of visible minorities to communities suffering from deteriorating urban conditions and lack of public infrastructure. The most successful entries carried out extensive research and had a very developed site strategy that was integral to their design solution. They often utilized existing resources in the community, some turning problematic spatial characteristics of the site into opportunities, and others connecting to existing infrastructure and community amenities.


Community involvement is one of the biggest differences between traditional justice systems and community justice centres. The most successful entries had clearly researched the community justice centre typology and thought about the role that the community plays both in the planning of their proposal and the operations going forward. The proposals included creative suggestions such as naming spaces and functions after local heroes and integrating atypical features into the justice facility such as a busker plaza and community splash pad. The winning entries also paid special attention to creating spaces that community members would use as part of their everyday activities without feeling obligated to be there as part of a justice-related event.



Collaboration with non-justice partners is integral to the community justice centre model. At their core, these facilities bring together justice, health, and social services under one roof to help address the root causes of crime and improve community safety.


The open-ended program requirements of the competition encouraged students to think about the types of support services that their chosen community needs. The competitors developed fresh, creative ideas to integrate services into the justice centre that support both those who are involved with the justice system and  those who are not. Program components such as legal aid clinics, employment services and skills development centres were common features of the most successful proposals. Some even included classrooms and evening programs that provided opportunities for the facilities to be used after-hours.




In addition to responding to the needs of a designated community, community justice centres also act as an incubator for new ideas that could possibly be scaled up and implemented in the more traditional justice setting.  


The most successful proposals were not afraid to challenge the status quo and to propose new justice paradigms that re-think how justice is delivered. The collective response to the competition brought to light the importance of creating a non-hierarchical adjudication space, the role of informal justice systems, the ability for a justice centre to activate a community, and how the use of technology can improve access to justice and community services.   



An initial independent review of the entries by each of the jury members established a short list of twenty-six submissions. These were then reviewed in more detail by the jurors in a virtual session held on August 12, 2021. The submissions were discussed and debated until a short list of six emerged. Each juror then ranked the shortlist from one to six and the top three were awarded first, second and third prizes. The remaining three were discussed further and selected for honourable mentions.


Rethinking Justice: Black Creek Community Corridor (Toronto, Ontario)

Christopher Hardy, University of Toronto
Tomasz Weinberger, University of Toronto


Located within an underutilised hydro-corridor in north-west Toronto, the Black Creek Community Corridor focused on providing residents of an underserved neighbourhood with a mix of restorative justice and peace-making spaces, social services, community amenities, and recreational facilities. The building was conceived around a sun-lit corridor with an ocular atrium at its centre, which creates a striking and welcoming spine, along which all social, legal, and recreational services are located. The judicial spaces step away from the formality and hierarchical arrangement of the more traditional courtroom by placing everyone at the same height in a semi-circular arrangement.



This is a well-researched and sophisticated proposal that goes far beyond a speculative competition entry. Beautiful graphics and a clear presentation make it easy to understand, and its overall organization, massing strategy, and mixture of justice and community programs including day-care, café, low-key sports areas, and library is completely believable. It addresses the competition brief at many levels from site selection, program adjacencies, and celebration of local community heroes in place names, to considerations of light and acoustics, design of non-hierarchical adjudication spaces, and materiality of the overall building. The quality of the design supported a wide-ranging discussion amongst the jury members, including the potential for additional engagement with the communities to the south and north of the site.

Social Infrastructure is Justice (Eastern Cape, South Africa)

Adam Oosthuizen, University of Cape Town


The Mqhekezweni Community Centre for Justice located in the Eastern Cape, South Africa, focused on providing a local community-based restorative justice alternative to the state-sponsored circuit court which is backlogged and not trusted by the local community. It is modelled on the traditional form and adjudication process of the Royal Court of isiXhosa. At its heart, the facility has an exterior court area for communal dispute settlement, modelled like an amphitheatre surrounding a central tree. Arranged around the central court is an organic layout based on the vernacular village settlements of the area, consisting of the town hall and various justice and social support services. The construction is based on local materials and construction technologies.



This scheme illustrates a well-researched understanding of the community situation, as well as the shortcomings of the local justice environment and a parallel lack of public infrastructure for the delivery of education, health care and other services. The use of traditional processes and architectural prototypes as a solution to these problems is a convincing strategy and the comprehensive program is a good fit. The resulting design has a rich variety of formal and informal spaces that combine to create a new community centre. The construction strategy, using sustainable and local materials and zero-energy solutions, is in alignment with the overall vision for the project. There was a discussion amongst the jury members about the potential for further refinement through the re-location of the peace-making spaces out from in between the more formal components of the justice support services, as well as the shape of the mediation and classroom spaces. 

Community Spot (Nowy Sacz, Poland)

Małgorzata Andrzejewska, Poznan University of Technology


Community Spot focused on the development of a mixed-used centre for a community in southern Poland that suffers from high levels of unemployment and crime. The community justice centre is just one of a collection of buildings that share a common material vocabulary in non-monumental form, in contrast to the more monumental typology of traditional courthouses. The collection of buildings houses justice and legal aid functions, education and rehabilitation, a day care, a restaurant, and co-working spaces, all organised to define the boundaries of a new public space based on the Greek agora.



This decentralized scheme is based on the compelling idea that the justice facility need not be monumental. It plays down the courtroom, presenting it as a modest component embedded within the new urban fabric that forms a public square housing other public infrastructure and services that address the underlying issues in the community. This strategy allows different elements to be used by discrete groups of people without necessarily encountering the judicial aspects of the program. The project is well presented with simple and clear drawings. There was some concern from one juror about the feasibility of five separate buildings in terms of operational issues such as management and security, while others envisioned a scenario where the project could be developed or managed by multiple groups, not just the justice system, in which independence could be an advantage.

Through "thick" and "thin" (Longdong Village, Guangzhou, China)

Xiangqing Zheng, South China University of Technology
Zhi Wang, South China University of Technology
Xiang Xiong,
South China University of Technology


Through “thick” and “thin” focused on addressing the deteriorating conditions appearing in Chinese villages that are engulfed by new urban development. The proposal distributed three separate program components along a lane that forms the central spine of the urban village. The first component provided a community space for children and the elderly, the second was the main judicial component including spaces for prosecution, legal aid, community courts and correction facilities, and the third element provided education, counselling and treatment spaces.



The jury admired this ambitious project that took on the challenge of knitting together parts of a dense urban area by reinforcing a historic route through the distribution of new public institutions along its length. These physical interventions featured a number of community outreach program components and were matched by a virtual APP interface, demonstrating that the team was thinking not only about architecture, but also the mission of the facility and how it could have a more positive impact than typically available through court processes and judges. The overall presentation was dense with information, although there was a desire amongst the jury for additional   renderings to understand more fully the architectural qualities of the proposal.

LEKHOTLA (Western Cape, South Africa)

Tankiso Hantsi, University of Cape Town


Lekhotla services the disenfranchised homeless community in Southern Basotho in South Africa. The proposal is comprised of three zones organised around a central courtyard. The first zone is dedicated to mental health services, the second is the adjudication area, and the third is the police support zone. At the heart of the proposal is an outdoor amphitheatre-style space where adjudication occurs based on the processes of the traditional community counsel and law courts. The custom is for the community to engage with the perpetrator in the search for truth, justice and closure for all parties involved. Judgement is cast by all relevant members of the community with the chief and beneficiaries overseeing the phased process.



This submission generated significant discussion amongst the jury as the program seemed a bit unclear. To some it appeared to be lacking a justice system and user services and did not act as a bridge between the community and the justice system like a traditional community justice centre. Others felt that in the context of an  ideas competition, there is a place for a submission that proposes an alternative to a traditional justice system and describes a method of adjudication based on the local community traditions. It was one of the most architecturally compelling designs with outdoor space and movement paths that are intentional and meaningful. The proposal also addressed dignity in a courtroom or assembly space in a way that many other submissions did not.

Re-Circle (Guangzhou, China)

Su Zeyong, Shenzhen University of China
Zhuang Shuze, Shenzhen University of China
Zhou Lun, Shenzhen University of China
Ouyang Yang,
Shenzhen University of China


Re-circle focused on the challenges of serving and connecting a unique community of African immigrants into the surrounding city of Guangzhou, China. The proposal infilled an empty portion of the city, extending the existing pattern of the urban fabric into a central node in which the program was organised in a fragmented but circular pattern. This form deliberately mixed judicial with community service functions. 


The jury felt this was a credible scheme that uses the justice centre program as a device to knit together a void in the existing city fabric. It makes a compelling argument for mixing justice and community components, integrating them into a circular arrangement that radially links into the surrounding city. The geometry is convincing and effectively used to create a centre that is informal and welcoming. The project raised questions for some members of the jury about the focus on a single community, and whether the proposal is intended to address internal conflict within the community or if it was intended to also act as a bridge to the larger city.





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Julian Jaffary

Justice Architecture Specialist

CAAJ Treasurer, AIA Liaison

& Competition Co-chair


Julius Lang

Community Courts Expert

Former Sr. Advisor at the Center for Court Innovation


Jacob Matthias Kummer

Architect, Montgomery Sisam Architects 

CAAJ Communications

& Competition Co-chair


Amaury Greig

Associate, Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW)


David Clusiau

Vice President, Design,  NORR

CAAJ Chair


Elsa Lam

Editor, Canadian Architect magazine

Competition Register

The Canadian Academy of Architecture for Justice reserves the right to publish entries on the CAAJ website, or to distribute to other architecture or justice-related publication media (websites, magazines or exhibitions). Credit for authorship will remain with the individual (or named individuals in the case of a team submission). By submitting material individual competitors and teams acknowledge this right.

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