American born Indian Architect Christopher Charles Benninger once said:

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“One structure may follow all the laws of design yet be worthless, while still another may break all the principles and be profound!” 

Born on 23rd November 1942, Christopher Charles Benninger came to India before 50 years as a young planner. He was strongly a believer of modern ethics and the social commitments of modernism, yet he was in search of cultural beauty. A strong believer in the human condition and comfort, Christopher Benninger puts style secondary.  

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The Royal Supreme Court Complex by Christopher Charles Benninger: Traditional Justice - Sheet1
Christopher Charles Benninger_©Sanyam Bahga

The design philosophies of Christopher Charles Benninger include the concoction of vernacular elements for a modern look. He used materials in the form of the building representing honesty in expression. He used human figurines and height as a measuring stick. To balance a community space, he had public domains and convivial spaces. He also gave importance to the users in a road or any other connecting space rather than vehicular machines. 

The Royal Supreme Court Complex, Bhutan  

As Bhutan was transforming from a monarchy to a constitutional democracy, one of the major milestones of the Bhutan Modernization project was to design a court complex. The structure was meant to tell the tale of the end of monarchy and the rise of the constitution. As it is going to be a major landmark to the country and play a lot of relevance in future history, The Royal Supreme Court was set at the nation’s capital Thimphu’s Capital Complex. The campus also covers the old Trashichhoe Dzong, to which the studio added a crucial addition in the form of the National Ceremonial Plaza. 

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The Royal Supreme Court Complex by Christopher Charles Benninger: Traditional Justice - Sheet2
Royal Supreme Court,Bhutan_©CCBA

With a built-up area of 14,685 square meters, the cost of the complex was estimated to be nearly 40 crore rupees. One of the main challenges faced by the architect was to create one full bench court and four single bench courts supported by administration and archives, as an Administrative Building. In the complex, various other spaces like a Judicial Library, a Registrar’s Building, and Lawyers’ Chambers were also planned. 

The Royal Supreme Court Complex by Christopher Charles Benninger: Traditional Justice - Sheet4
Royal Supreme Court,Bhutan_©CCBA

For the National Capital Precinct, the architects chose a site that had a steep slope from west to east, perpendicular to the north-south axis addressing the country’s most revered temple, Trashichhoe Dzong. 

As said before, to bring the cultural touch to the complex, many strategies were approached. The first one was that multiple architectural typologies were incorporated into the same build language. The second strategy was to address the National Capital Precinct’s urban design issues through a site plan with Judicial Plaza on the center, aligning the full bench Supreme Court at the far north of the plaza with the Trashichhoe Dzong, and specifically the ancient Utsi, to the south. 

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The third technique was to structure the organization of functions and activities in the complex in a way that important spaces were separated from the common ones. The third technique focused on the circulation within the complex. The judges, archives, and support staff needed different circulating spaces from the public visitors and litigants. 

The site’s design addressed the slope that runs perpendicular to the Trashichhoe Dzong’s north-south axis. The judges were brought into the site from the upper western elevation, one story above the public entrance, by cutting a terrace and establishing the lower plaza level. This allowed for safe circulation within the administrative area and courts from the west through bridges, with the public entering from the lower east side. Many heritage structures in the form of miniature chortens were also included in the site plan. 

The Royal Supreme Court Complex by Christopher Charles Benninger: Traditional Justice - Sheet5
Spaces and Section of Royal Supreme Court,Bhutan_©CCBA

Rather than building a single massive structure, the numerous justice courts are highlighted to establish a sacred precinct and a public domain in the form of a large expanse, around which these distinctive forms are methodically placed. The courts themselves are reminiscent of traditional takhangs, or Buddhist temples, found in the valleys of Bhutan. As a result, a strong vision emerges that links these modern institutions to the Himalayan civilization’s large and old meaning system, firmly embedding the judiciary within the culture. 

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The Supreme Court complex is within a heritage zone that includes 34 heritage sites including chortens, manni walls, lakhangs, and the massive ‘Trashi Chhoe Dzong itself. 

The Royal Supreme Court Complex by Christopher Charles Benninger: Traditional Justice - Sheet6
Site model of Royal Supreme Court,Bhutan_©CCBA

The Trashi Chhoe Dong precinct was established as part of Christopher Benninger’s capital city building plan, which began in 2001. The Supreme Court anchors the higher. the northern end of this city size composition, which is made up of fifteen urban villages, an urban core, a north hub, and a south hub, all linked by an urban corridor. The Supreme Court, together with the Dzong and the National Secretariat, becomes a major iconic clement, the nation’s image when it is situated at the terminal end of a city’s center of the eye.

The Royal Supreme Court Complex by Christopher Charles Benninger: Traditional Justice - Sheet7
Royal Supreme Court,Bhutan_©CCBA

References

Anon, (n.d.). Supreme Court of Bhutan – Christopher Charles Benninger – ArchitectureLive! [online] Available at: https://architecturelive.in/supreme-court-of-bhutan-christopher-charles-benninger/ [Accessed 1 Sep. 2021].

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The Royal Supreme Court Complex, Bhutan. (2008). Architecture + Design. Feb.

Divya Suresh (2019). Christopher Charles Benninger, Indian architect. [online] Available at: https://www.slideshare.net/DivyaSuresh15/christopher-charles-benninger-indian-architect [Accessed 1 Sep. 2021].

Author

Devika Bhaskaran is an architecture student with absolute love for writing, poetry and travelling. She believes that there are beautiful and mind-blowing untold stories within people and places and she hopes to be a voice for the same. She is in a constant search for architectural wonders that are accessible to all kinds of humans.

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