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November 2008

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.


Federal Courthouses Recognized for Architectural and Design Excellence

The American Institute of Architects selected four federal courthouses to highlight this year in its publication, Justice Facilities Review. Two of the courthouses—the U.S. Courthouse in Alpine, Texas (Western District of Texas), and the Wheeling, West Virginia Federal Building and U.S. District Courthouse (Northern District of West Virginia)—also received citations for architectural and design excellence.

A jury of representatives from justice, architectural, and government sectors selected winning projects for the Review that “demonstrate quality of form, functionality, and current architectural responses to complex justice design issues.”

U.S. Courthouse
Alpine, Texas
Western District of Texas
Architect: PageSoutherlandPage
General Contractor: W.G. Yates & Sons Construction Company, San Antonio

The architect called the U.S. courthouse in Alpine, Texas, “a very particular response to the extraordinary quality of the local landscape, the harsh climate of West Texas, and the specific mission of the occupants of the courthouse.”

The jury noted how the project “incorporates security, climatic mitigation strategies, and local materials in a design solution that is grounded in the surrounding landscape. The dry-laid local stone walls, simple landmark entry rotunda, horizontally oriented wood detailing, and clear organization of the building components around an exterior courtyard all contribute to this relationship with the site.” The design uses a courtyard and an exterior covered walkway as the primary circulation and organizational device, instead of an air-conditioned interior route.

Bill Putnicki, clerk of court for the Western District of Texas, and Facilities Design Project Manager Sonia Hogeland are both pleased with how well the building relates to the local area.

“The building is not your traditional courthouse, yet it fits right into the Alpine, Texas, esthetic,” said Hogeland. “They used a lot of indigenous materials and the stone looks just like a mountain a half mile from the site.”

Putnicki is happy to finally have room for judges, staff, and probation and pretrial services offices in one building. Previously, they had been spread between several buildings with a magistrate judge’s chambers in a shopping center. The court, according to Putnicki, already has a high volume of drug and immigration cases, and will probably see more cases as the local U.S. Attorneys office, the Border Patrol, ICE, and DEA move additional personnel into the area.

Wheeling Federal Building and U.S. District Courthouse
Wheeling, West Virginia
Northern District of West Virginia
Photo by Anton Grassl/Esto Photographics, Inc.
Architect: Goody Clancy
Associate Architect: HLM Design
Contractor: Dick Corporation

“This existing judicial complex of three disparate 20th century buildings has been reenergized by the addition of a four-story connective atrium,” the jury said. They were particularly impressed with “the rigor evident in the solution, from the reorganized interior (with its clear distinction of public and secure circulation), to the layered transparency of the atriums façade. . . . The atrium provides the city and the building occupants with an urban showcase, framing views of the activities within, while elegantly deferring to the traditional vocabulary of its surroundings. . . . This submission clearly communicates how the skillful integration of three existing buildings can revitalize an entire city block.”

“The jury’s statement rightly recognizes how well the courthouse’s atrium complements the original building dating from 1953,” said Judge Frederick P. Stamp, Jr., who headed the courthouse construction project. “The atrium is a great addition to the downtown area and gives ready access to the congressional offices, and our probation office and our clerk’s office. For the first time, we have a jury assembly room, located off the atrium, that is also an excellent space for meetings and receptions. And after many years, our U.S. Attorneys office has returned to the courthouse. There’s also space in the atrium for art exhibits and we’re currently showcasing the works of local artists with disabilities.”

Stamp adds, “Great credit goes not only to the architects and contractors, but also to everyone in the courthouse who gave countless hours working with the AO and the GSA, and contributing ideas to the process.”

Richard Sheppard Arnold
U.S. Courthouse Annex
Little Rock, Arkansas
Eastern District of Arkansas
Photo by Timothy Hursley
Architect: WER RTKL, A Joint Venture
General Contractor: Caddell Construction Company, Inc.

“The building draws people to it,” said Clerk of Court James McCormack, “and puts us back into the town square as the first federal building on the government corridor leading to the capitol.”

According to the architect’s statement, the project was originally envisioned as an expansion of the existing courthouse; however, after reconsideration and recommendations from the government design team, the project became an independent addition to the courthouse. The addition sits on a newly acquired parcel, creating sightlines from the prominent Broadway and Capitol intersection to the new complex. A landscaped public plaza running parallel to the project showcases a striking atrium entrance that provides a new main entry and connects the addition to the courthouse.

“They did a truly remarkable job,” said McCormack. “The exterior historic wall of one building is the interior wall of our atrium and our bridge to our past. People like the experience of being in our building. They bring their lunch to the atrium and sit and watch the activity. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.”

George C. Young U.S. Courthouse and Federal Building Annex
Orlando, Florida
Middle District of Florida
Photos by Peter Aaron/Esto Photographics, Inc.
Architect: Leers Weinzapfel
Associate Architect: HLM Design-Heery International Inc.
General Contractor: Hansel Phelps Construction Company

According to the architect’s statement, the new courthouse is a six-story structure with its entry at the corner of two main streets, “providing a landmark presence in the downtown area and linking two sides of a city divided by an elevated highway. Four courtrooms on each floor overlook a five-story atrium. Beyond the courtroom zone, the chambers are configured as pavilions around light terraces that bring daylight into the courtrooms.”

Chief Judge Anne C. Conway says that once construction started, work on the new courthouse was a model of teamwork. “We held monthly meetings once construction started,” she said. “And we worked closely with the architect, the contractor, our GSA project manager, and the U.S. Marshals Service representative. The new courthouse has lots of nice features and a beautiful public space that gets a lot of use. As the architect noted, the new courthouse ‘re-establishes the city block and creates a welcoming and dignified presence for the court within the city and surrounding neighborhoods.’”