Cedar Rapids US Courthouse
Architects: William Rawn Associates, Architects and OPN Architects
Location: Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Awarded a citation
The new courthouse for the Northern District of Iowa promotes openness and transparency via all entrances visible at street level and windows on two sides of every courtroom.
A courthouse must simultaneously respond to the needs of individual petitioners and address broad societal issues. It must convey authority, but still connect to its community as the source of that authority. Its processes must be transparent and open to all citizens in our democratic society.
The new United States Courthouse (290,000 gross square feet) for the Northern District of Iowa strives to meet these high aims in a welcoming, daylight-infused building. A highly collaborative process with all judges participating created strong allegiance to the fundamental ideas of the project, allowing them to weather the challenges of the design process. The project is a model for design rigor that also balances budget control and successful delivery. The project finished on-time and on-budget.
The Courthouse is located prominently in downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa. District, Magistrate, and Bankruptcy Courts, as well as appellate court judge chambers and ancillary facilities are provided. The courthouse expresses a democratic spirit of openness and approachability through two organizing principles:
- Justice on display: This is one of the only recently constructed Federal Courthouse where entrances to all courtrooms are visible to the public at street level.
- Windows in every courtroom: This is the first recently constructed Federal Courthouse with windows on two sides of every District, Magistrate and Bankruptcy courtroom.
This courthouse aims to contribute to the evolution of a proud building type in American culture. It serves as a model for unobtrusively integrating security on the site and upon entry. It directly addresses the challenge of bringing daylight to courtrooms while maintaining secure circulation paths. And it responds to the increasing size and scale of federal buildings with a design that is both recognizably civic and contemporary.
The jury appreciated the basic themes of clarity and simplicity in this project, which presents itself as a straightforward gesture of a building in a park, nestled along the river, as well as a significant element within the context of this city. One juror noted that the “gentle sweep of the building toward the river is as if the river created the shape—it really is a pleasure to study this solution on this site.”
We were taken by the presentation, the ability to walk through a process and a progression. From the basic parti, to the entry/movement sequence, to the thoughtful articulation of public circulation—pulled slightly away from the courts’ threshold wall allowing for the dramatic spilling of light from above—to the courtroom layouts, and the central atrium void, glazed and on axis with a city street provides a sense of transparency, both actual and implied, on approach or from the city. The jury found this project to be laudable: “One of my favorites; architecturally, diagrammatically, all of it.”