New United States Courthouse, Los Angeles
Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP
Owner: General Services Administration (GSA)
Location: Los Angeles, CA
To represent the ideals of the U.S. justice system, this federal courthouse on a prominent block in downtown Los Angeles relies on the intersection of site, program, sustainability, and security. The end result of a process initiated in the late 1990s by the General Services Administration, the project has modernized the Central District of California and addresses the security shortcomings of its predecessor.
Housing 24 courtrooms and 32 judicial chambers, the courthouse’s architectural expression is a marriage of site orientation, civic form, environmental performance, and democratic principles. Its innovative hat-truss structure allows its transparent cube form to seemingly float above a stone pedestal. The clearance allows the natural topography to slide under the building, strengthening its civic footprint by creating new public spaces.
Inside, the building relies on traditional architectural elements to broaden its civic presence. Processional steps and durable materials such as limestone, white marble, and oak can be found throughout. A light color palette helps maximize the effectiveness of the daylighting that streams through a central light court. In each courtroom and jury deliberation room, natural light dignifies the spaces and helps alleviate stress. A number of two-story meditative spaces with views of the city found throughout the building are places of respite, designed to encourage pre-trial settlements.
Addressing the circulation needs for discrete groups of users was a critical component of the design strategy. The courthouse’s program centers on circulation patterns for federal judges and their staff as well as detainees and the public. All three circulation corridors needed to work independently of one another, both horizontally and vertically, which affected the layout of corridors, stairwells, and elevators.
A central courtyard situated within the secure confines of the courthouse is accessible to all of the building’s users. It encourages people to work outdoors and enjoy California’s climate, or find a moment of peace from the gravity of court proceedings.