New United States Courthouse — Los Angeles
Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP
Owner: General Services Administration (GSA)
Location: Los Angeles
Rallying around the convergence of site, budget, security, and sustainability, this new courthouse in downtown Los Angeles represents the ideals of the judicial system while strengthening the city’s civic core. The endpoint of a project initiated in the 1990s by the General Services Administration, shelved due to financial constraints, and eventually re-scoped in 2012, the new courthouse has centralized the courts’ functions within one building and serves as an iconic form for the Central District of California.
Housing 24 courtrooms and 32 judicial chambers, the new courthouse occupies a prominent block. To open up new public spaces, the design team developed an innovative hat-truss structure that allows the courthouse’s cubic form to seemingly float above its stone base. The city’s steeply sloped topography slips seamlessly beneath the forms to lend a sense of sculpture to the composition.
"This powerful composition and the generosity of its public spaces gives the project a clear civic presence, separating it from its commercial neighbors." ~ Jury statement
Los Angeles’ street grid is rotated 38 degrees from a true north-south orientation, and buildings aligned with it often suffer harsh east-west solar impact. To combat this, the courthouse’s pleated glass façade helps rotate its glass planes to align with the ideal orientation. Natural daylight is encouraged while solar impact is minimized, resulting in a 47 percent reduction in solar radiation load on the building.
To further the courthouse’s civic presence and separate it from its commercial neighbors, the team relied on traditional architectural elements, such as processional steps, grand public spaces, and liberal use of enduring limestone, white marble, and oak. With the added benefit of outstanding environmental performance, the building’s triangulated glass assembly and solar screens provide the luminosity suited to a 21st-century courthouse.
The team maximized opportunities to reduce stress throughout the courthouse. Two-story meditative spaces with views onto the city encourage pretrial settlements, and daylight and transparency are hallmarks of all courtroom levels. Within the courthouse’s secure confines, an exterior courtyard accessible to all users offers an open-space amenity where people can work, take advantage of California’s climate, or find respite from the pressure of court proceedings.
"The design's fascination with natural light and white spaces is nicely contrasted by the golden wood interior figures and floors." ~ Jury statement