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Design Guide Renovation
It may be the must-read of the summer of 2007. Updated, reworked, and newly reader-friendly, it is the U.S. Courts Design Guide.
OK, so you won’t see it on many beach blankets — but for those working
in courthouse design and renovations, it’s the book to read.
The original Design Guide was produced in 1991, and while
revisions have been made continuously since, the last major overhaul was
in 1997. In terms of construction and technology, that made the Guide’s
standards perilously out-of-date.
So what changed?
“We’ve made the Design Guide easier to use and
understand,” says Chief Judge Joseph F. Bataillon, chair of the Judicial
Conference Committee on Space and Facilities. “Architects and engineers
have complained that the way the old Guide was structured and amended
made it difficult to use. For example, if you wanted to know about
standards for HVAC or lighting, you had to look in half a dozen
different sections. Even the General Services Administration was having
The new Design Guide has added chapters to orient judges
and unit executives who may never previously have worked on a
But if you only read it for the organizational changes,
you’d be missing the point. The new Guide reflects the Judiciary’s
hard-eyed look at controlling costs and examining existing space
“We needed to be sure our space requirements reflect
changes in the way the Judiciary does business,” said Batallion. “We
looked at everything—chambers, courtrooms, libraries, staff offices,
even public spaces.”
Recommendations for cutting construction costs came from
the people who knew best—GSA architects, judges, circuit executives,
appellate, district and bankruptcy court clerks, probation and pretrial
services officers, staff attorneys, circuit librarians, federal public
defenders, and project managers. Everyone brought something to the
For example, all judges chambers conference rooms were
downsized for consistency. All judges’ chambers will now have
standardized layouts in each new courthouse. Circuit executives and
librarians downsized their office and library square footage.
With more cases being filed electronically, clerks of
court reduced filing space and public intake areas to make room for
additional computers and records examination space. All of which saves
“One of the big considerations is design excellence,” said
Bataillon. “Understandably, because a federal courthouse should be a
concrete and mortar symbol of American justice in the community. And
their recommendations on the size of atriums and courtyards and other
public spaces in the courthouse reflect those considerations. We worked
with them to change criteria on the relative size of public versus
private space. We still have impressive public space, but now it cannot
GSA also helped the Committee revamp the recommendations
on courthouse interiors from wall finishes to floors. “Now once a design
aesthetic is selected for courthouse interiors, it becomes the building
standard and that level of finish is maintained for the lifetime of the
courthouse,” said Bataillon. “This not only saves money, it maintains
the integrity of the original design.”
Criteria for acoustics and lighting were revamped. Former
Design Guide performance level criteria on acoustics had proven too
high, and these were assessed downward without any negative impact.
Standards for lighting were refined to take a more practical
consideration of reflective courtroom surfaces, sightlines, and task
GSA donated space for the AO to construct mock-ups of
courtrooms to test updated recommendations on ease of access by people
with disabilities, with the assistance of the Courthouse Access Advisory
Committee of the U.S. Access Board.
What’s next on the list for revision? Bataillon says the
Committee will look at standards for repairs and alterations. “We have
many courthouses built to the standards of the 1991 and 1997 Design
Guides,” he said. “The question will be, must renovations to a single
floor meet 2007 guidelines, the 1997, or the pre-1991 standards of the
rest of the courthouse.”
The new Design Guide is currently in production and will be available soon. Contact Kathleen Desmond at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.