Significance of the Courthouse and Jail Complex


Pittsburgh is recognized for its bridges and its buildings. The history of Pittsburgh has been intertwined with architecture since the beginning when Fort Pitt was first constructed between the rivers. Having strong buildings has been important to the history of Pittsburgh and the courthouse is no exception.

One such building is the Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail complex. Completed in 1888, the building was designed by Henry Richardson who was famous for his “Richardsonian Romanesque” style. Richardsonian Romanesque employs thick walls, emphasized arches, and spacious interior spaces. The Allegheny Courthouse is a prime example of Richardsonian Romanesque because it was constructed with all of the aforementioned characteristics.

The courthouse was commissioned after the old courthouse burned down in 1882 and Richardson designed the building before his death in 1886 (he never saw the completed building). His design was selected as the winner of a contest hosted by the City of Pittsburgh.

The reason for a blog dedicated to the courthouse is because of how significant it is. The building is important not only in the greater Pittsburgh area but also across the United States. For instance, the courthouse is the second most recognized courthouse in the entire United States, behind the Supreme Court building. It is also the 35th most recognized building in America. But why is it so recognized and so popular?

Perhaps the iconic nature of the building comes from the integration of function and form. Buildings can be beautiful, practical, or some combination of the two. The Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail has a combination of the two, adding to its beauty.

One of the beauties of the courthouse is the usage of natural lighting. An inner courtyard allows fresh air and direct sunlight to penetrate into the offices of judges and other county workers. Such lighting made working in the building much more enjoyable, especially during the dark winter months before inside lighting was efficient. In the present, natural lighting can still make the building beautiful because reliance on artificial light is limited. I am sure most people would prefer natural lighting as opposed to artificial lighting.

The thick stone walls of the complex not only look appealing but also ensure the building was protected from the outside yet insulated on the inside. The stones were purposefully roughened up to create a rustic look. Characteristic of Richardsonian Romanesque, the walls make the building look heavy and powerful. Courthouses need to be strong and formidable to inspire respect from the public.

The last aspect of the courthouse is the natural air conditioning. Before the days of electric air conditioning the building could become extremely hot, especially in the summer. To combat the heat, air channels were constructed into the tower where hot air could escape from. Hot air rises so the heat would leave and cooler air would enter the building. The technique was derived from the House of Parliament in the United Kingdom.

The courthouse was very influential when constructed and still adds a beautiful aspect to the downtown Pittsburgh area. The thick walls and powerful arches make the building significant and inspiring to look at.

2 thoughts on “Significance of the Courthouse and Jail Complex

  1. This is a very good overview of the courthouse. The natural air conditioning is a really cool fun fact, and I love that you included that. It is details like that that always interest me. It was also interesting to read that the design of the building was selected in a contest because you don’t often think about the origin behind designs.


  2. I like that, with this post, you give a mix of both factual and architectural descriptions. The background information is also very interesting, and this post makes the reader feel as though they are present, seeing the courthouse for themselves, without actually being there.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s