Superior Court of California - San Diego

Architect:  Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP

Location: San Diego

Awarded a citation

The new Superior Court of California San Diego consolidates San Diego County's criminal trial, family, civil, and probate courts into a 24-story downtown tower.

The building advances the high-rise court house typology with a design that allows for critical future flexibilities through a carefully designed structural system. In the spirit of civic buildings with a strong but accommodating presence, the design integrates this formal repertoire with a language of robust subtractive massing that encloses a secure and welcoming interior.

"There is flexibility in the overall planning: jury deliberation converts to a chamber, courtrooms facilitate both criminal or family. This building is visually captivating from the first glance. The luminous design of the canopy is captivating, and the tower offers a handsome profile on the skyline. " ~ Jury comments

The courthouse comprises a tower and podium clad in precast concrete, as well as a public plaza. Located on a former brownfield at the intersection of Union and C Streets, the project is designed as a catalyst for an emerging government district.  The first four levels of the courthouse support high volume functions of the court, including arraignment courts, misdemeanor courts, offices, and a 500 person jury assembly hall. These functions are serviced by a cascading stair and escalator along a three-story lobby.

On its exterior, the courthouse features a distinctive soffit at its crown. With shaped aluminum panel sections, the soffit shades the building during the morning hours. It also captures and dynamically reflects southern and western light back onto the underside of the structure's surface. Both practical and symbolic, this luminous design feature celebrates the San Diego skyline.

Additional information

Acoustics, Audiovisual, Security: Shen Milsom & Wilke, LLC

Architecture, Graphics, Interior Design, Structural Engineering: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP

Blast Engineering: Weidlinger Associates Inc.

Civil Engineering: RBF Consulting /Michael Baker International

Construction Manager: Rudolph & Sletten, Inc.  

Cost Estimating: Davis Langdon

Courtroom Programmers: Ricci Greene Associates

Environmental/Abatement, Geotechnical/Foundation: URS  

Food Service/Kitchen Consultant: CINI Little Engineering Inc.

Holding/Detention: Dewberry, Inc.

Information Technology/Telecommunications, Life/Fire Safety Engineering, MEP/Fire Protection Engineering: WSP

Landscape/Irrigation: TLS Landscape Architecture

Life/Fire Safety Engineering, MEP/Fire Protection Engineering: Jensen Hughes  

Lighting: Horton Lees Brogden Lighting Design

Vertical Transportation/Elevators/Escalators: Edgett Williams Consulting Group Inc.

Wind Tunnel Testing: Rowan Williams Davies & Irwin Inc. (RWDI)  


Mallory Scott Cusenbery, AIA (Chair), RossDrulisCusenbery, Sonoma, California

Hon. Celeste F. Bremer, United States District Court | Southern District of Iowa, Des Moines, Iowa

Michael Cox, AIA, Wold Architects and Engineers, Saint Paul, Minnesota

Julian Jaffary, B.Arch, OAA, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Thomas Pulaski, Prince William County Police Department, Woodbridge, Virginia

Arthur Thompson, AIA, SMRT, Portland, Maine

Charles W. Wend, Mount Vernon, Washington

Image credits


Bruce Damonte

02_Superior Court of California San Diego

Bruce Damonte

03_Superior Court of California San Diego

Bruce Damonte

04_Superior Court of California San Diego

Bruce Damonte

01_Superior Court of California San Diego

Bruce Damonte