As an interruption of Phoenix’s Jeffersonian grid and “downtown” of glass box and faux adobe, the new federal building is a gravitational point of interest and anchor for the sprawling city of Phoenix. The 500,000 square-foot building with six stories and underground parking is sited on two central city blocks between the governmental and business districts.
The building’s exterior massing harmonizes with the indigenous, rectilinear geometry of its context, but the focus is a massive atrium lobby which offers occupants and visitors a naturally acclimatized public space of outdoor proportions. An interior, urban landscape has been designed into the void: the ceremonial, glass-clad Special Proceedings Court rises as a cylindrical building volume; while the southern flank of the atrium features a street-like facade of multiple levels with entries to various offices, agencies and courtrooms.
The building’s diverse program, including special security provisions, is clarified by a straight-forward organization: an L-shaped block, fronted on the western and southern limits of the site, contains federal offices; facilities such as child care, credit union, press room, library and judges’ chambers with the capacity for nineteen District Courts and four Magistrate Courts. A cafeteria on the second floor looks onto a garden on the western side of the site.
Passively cooled by natural convection currents and a water-misting system, the atrium provides energy efficient space that is comfortable for public gatherings. The phenomenon of adiabatic cooling – through evaporation rather than heat exchange – is used to attain a drop in air temperature without a significant expenditure of energy. Even on the hottest summer days, the temperature in the hall can be lowered from between 15 degrees to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, and the movement of air at occupied levels enhances the sensation of comfort.
Solar orientation and facade articulation reinforce the design intentions: the atrium faces north, receiving the benefits of reflected light through a tessellated curtain wall of transparent and frit glass. The facade is given additional dimension by its structural framework: T-profile steel columns, which raise the full height of the building, mullions that project in relief, and shadowbox techniques. The air-conditioned office and courtroom block receives limited southern light through a more opaque, louvered facade.
Special thanks to Richard Meier & Partners Architects and Scott Frances for their contributions of information, photographs and drawings.
Architect: Richard Meier & Partners
Location: Pheonix, Arizona
Project Year: 1994-2000
References: Richard Meier & Partners
Photography: Courtesy of Richard Meier & Partners Architects ©Scott Frances ESTO