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Award Honors Construction Excellence in Seattle
The General Services Administration Design Awards Program, held every two
years, honors “the best of the best” of the federal projects designed and
constructed by GSA. For the 2004 Biennial Design Awards, 143 projects were
submitted; 16 projects were selected for awards. Seven U.S. courthouses received
citations, but only one received honors: the new courthouse in Seattle,
In recognizing the courthouse for its Construction Excellence, the jury of
private sector professionals noted, “The 390-foot-high U.S. Courthouse in
Seattle with its iconic copper roof was completed on time and on budget, despite
signiﬁcant unexpected challenges that included record inclement weather, a labor
strike, the departure of the major joint-venture partner, and contaminated
Chief Judge Robert S. Lasnik (W.D. Wash.) just says, “It was an epic.” The
weather was probably normal for Seattle. (“Our weather isn’t bad,” said Clerk of
Court Bruce Rifkin, “but it rains, which is bad for construction schedules.”)
The rest of the hurdles, however, were all too real. The potentially most
disruptive event occurred when the international company partnering with a
smaller local company to build the courthouse went bankrupt. “I give GSA a lot
of credit,” said Rifkin, “they kept the project moving and maintained the
quality of the work—we never missed a beat.”
It took ﬁve years to ﬁnd an appropriate site, then funding was held up.
Finally, funding in hand, the court realized construction bids were nearly $17
million over available funding. “We looked at costs, estimates, and what we
could cut. And we negotiated the contract within the appropriated funding,” said
Rifkin. “In the end, we didn’t feel we gave up things critical to the
The courthouse had an important advocate: Judge Carolyn R. Dimmick (W.D.
Wash.). “Judge Dimmick was essential to construction,” said Lasnik. “She was
on-site all the time.”
She began by paring down what the court wanted in its courthouse to ﬁt the
“We had to rethink and re-plan to come in on budget,” Dimmick said, “but we
didn’t change the quality or efﬁciency of the building.”
The number of courtrooms was cut; “but we made them all the same size, so
that any judge could use any courtroom,” said Dimmick. Book shelf space was
taken from judges’ chambers, so three chambers now share a library. This also
cut down on book purchases.
Adds Dimmick, “We stayed with modest materials inside the courthouse. But the
interiors are just as lovely as the exterior. In fact, the interior also
received a design award from GSA.”
One of Dimmick’s favorite areas is the courthouse entry, where a reﬂection
pool also serves as a security barrier. Because of its placement, the public can
walk in and see the courthouse without going through security.
A key to success was Dimmick’s efforts to involve her fellow judges in design
decisions. For example, judges viewed a mock-up of a courtroom set-up in a local
warehouse and approved the sightlines from bench to jury box before construction
began. “Usually, judges move into a new courthouse and complain,” said Lasnik.
“She forced us to deal with issues during the planning process. She made sure we
Adds Rifkin, “She had the cooperation of the judges. She knew what issues to
consult them on, and in turn, they respected her taste and her decisions.”
Interviewed the same day a high-proﬁle terrorist was sentenced in the
courthouse, Lasnik said, “This really is a marvelous building, where good design
and security are built into it.
At the same time, it’s not a fortress that says stay away. On a sunny day,
people use the seating in our public plaza outside. Our courthouse café is open
to the public and attracts people from the neighborhood. It’s a stunning
building that adds to the city.”
Seven federal courthouses received citations in the 2004 Biennial Design
Awards. For a look at these courthouse projects visit www.uscourts.gov/ttb/may05ttb/designawards.html.