New United States Courthouse Competition Entry / NBBJ

North © NBBJ

Claiming to be the most progressive, sustainable, and cost effective courthouse in the nation, NBBJ’s shortlisted proposal for the New Los Angeles Federal Courthouse serves as a model for future GSA development. The contrast between the free and informal spirit of Los Angeles with the formal structure and societal role of the Federal Courts illustrates an important duality that openly coexists throughout their phased design. At a larger scale, the structure becomes a mediator within the skyline, rising to a comfortable 256 feet tall to help transition the steep, urban high-rise topography of Bunker Hill and the mid-rise, ordered context of downtown.

Read the architects’ description after the break to learn more about this high performance, multifaceted design.

Courthouse Concept and Organization:

Concept © NBBJ

The New Los Angeles Federal Courthouse tower is distinguished by courtrooms, organized two per floor, held in balance between the citizenry and the judiciary. Each element of this essential composition is informed by an unambiguous architectural narrative: public lobbies facing north-east are transparent and suggest access to all; judicial spaces facing south-west feature an array of sun screens that together signify diverse perspectives and a vibrant democracy; and the courtrooms are solid objects affirming the significance of these primary spaces and the legal proceedings that occur within.

Absent ambiguity, the tower composition asserts clarity, order, and resolution while resting upon a three-story base. The architecture of the base is motivated by capturing the spirit of Los Angeles with indoor/outdoor spaces, people places, and an informal atmosphere barring one exception – the entry which features three pairs of tall doors formally aligned to the portico, lobby, and tower above.

Mediating between the tower and base is a grand portico and trellis, shading much of the outdoor public spaces, signaling the presence of a civic landmark, and framing the greater public realm below.

Portico © NBBJ

The tower solution for courtrooms and chambers offers important benefits: plentiful courtroom daylight – proven to increase acuity and alertness, panoramic views, and short travel distances from judicial chambers to courtrooms. The measurement from each judicial chamber door to the nearest courtroom door ranges from a minimum of 53’ to a maximum of 69’ with an average travel distance of just 55’ – a 13 second journey assuming normal walking pace.

Independently, the large floor plates that comprise the three story base offer added benefits: compliance with all functional adjacency objectives for the first floor; a 45,000 square foot contiguous space for United States Marshals Service functions on the second floor; a 2,800 square foot outdoor terrace accessible from the Special Proceedings Courtroom lobby on the third floor; and general optimization of the courts support functions throughout the base.

Courtroom Lobby © NBBJ

Ultimately our design for the New Los Angeles Federal Courthouse is informed by a set of interdependent solutions that unite conceptual priorities with the most favorable environmental design decisions.

Federal Office Building Site: 

Site Plan © NBBJ

An optimized site has been reserved for the future Federal Office Building with a primary orientation along 2nd Street. This Phase 2 site provides an office floor plate dimension of 233’ long by 107’ wide. In addition, 50’ setbacks from all property lines ensure minimal perimeter wall hardening – key for commercial developers to achieve a realistic cost equation. Importantly, a 107’ wide office building dimension ensures ideal structural and office planning bay depths. Together these best practice planning strategies for the future Federal

Office Building will strengthen the viability of commercial developer participation in the Phase 2 public/private development initiative.

Entering the new Federal Courthouse: 

Entry © NBBJ

A prominent three story colonnade will be visible from all directions as one approaches the new courthouse. Walking along Broadway or Hill Street this colonnade will guide the public to the grand portico and entry located on 1st Street. Here the strength of the grand portico will be fully understood as a symbol of public significance,access, and the importance of the courts within our society. Openness and sensing the majesty of the law will define the entry experience as people fully comprehend the 56’ tall by 38’ deep by 118’ wide lobby space and view the full height of the courthouse tower above through a large skylight. Fine art can be suspended from the skylight structure, integrated with the large walls that bookend the elevator core, or positioned at several other prominent locations. Finally, to ensure an unspoiled first impression unobtrusive security and screening is offset from the entry axis which visually links the entry doors to the elevator core ensuring straightforward way-finding knowledge.

While walking through the lobby a polished concrete floor provides a connection to the exterior plinth, amplifying one’s footsteps and fostering a solemn ambiance. Beyond security screening easy access and clear sight lines are provided for: the Jury Assembly lounge; District Clerk public counters; and elevator core. Other functions conveniently located on the first floor just past the main lobby space include news media amenities and the Randolph Shepherd snack bar.

High Performance Building Design:

South © NBBJ

The design will achieve energy conservation at least 30% better than the ASHRAE 90.1. Our design’s high level of energy conservation was achieved through place-specific passive strategies including solar orientation, shading strategies, high performance glazing, and enhanced insulation – all with a focus on mechanical system load reduction prior to selecting the best options for cost effective, proven, durable and low maintenance building systems.

A wide range of high performance building design strategies will make the New Los Angeles Federal Courthouse the most progressive, sustainable, and cost effective courthouse in the nation, providing a model for future GSA development. Daylight, natural ventilation, chilled beams, radiant floors, improved air quality, solar tubes, photovoltaic arrays, solar hot water, the reuse of gray water, and many more proven sustainable design strategies assure a high performance green building that will achieve LEED® Gold certification – with the potential for LEED® Platinum certification if a majority of additional unconfirmed points are approved by the United States Green Building Council.

For more on the New Los Angeles Federal Courthouse, check out the following:

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About this author
Cite: Karissa Rosenfield. "New United States Courthouse Competition Entry / NBBJ" 27 Dec 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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