civic center, downtown los angeles

Confirmed: SOM to Design New Downtown LA Federal Courthouse

An early rendering was released by Congresswoman Roybal-Allard of the SOM-designed new federal courthouse in Downtown LA (Photo: SOM)

Last month, we first reported from a credible source that Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill (SOM) had already been chosen by the US General Services Administration (GSA) to design the new federal courthouse at First and Broadway in the Civic Center. Then early yesterday morning, I received a press release from Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard’s office confirming that SOM was indeed awarded the contract along with architecture engineering firm Clark Construction.

The site where the new federal courthouse will be built, at First and Broadway, is currently an abandoned sunken dirt lot. A very large sunken dirt lot at 3.6 acres. This eye sore has been a gaping hole in the urban fabric, preventing the Civic Center from connecting with the Historic Core along Broadway and Hill or up to Bunker Hill along First Street.

When completed in 2016, the new federal courthouse will fill in this gaping hole, adding to the urban continuity of the built environment in the Civic Center. That’s a big plus for pedestrians and businesses nearby. It’s important to view the courthouse as not only just “another building,” but as a critical piece that will help Downtown LA mature into a first-rate urban center.

A view of the federal courthouse from First Street (Photo: SOM)

[Update 12/13/12: Newer renderings from ArchDaily]

Looking southwest standing at First and Broadway (Photo: ArchDaily)

Looking southwest standing at First and Broadway (Photo: ArchDaily)

View from First Street

View from First Street (Photo: ArchDaily)

An atrium filters natural light into the lobby of the new courthouse (Photo: ArchDaily)

An atrium filters natural light into the lobby of the new courthouse (Photo: ArchDaily)

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  1. Hopefully that’s not the final design, because is HORRIBLE!!!
    They have to design something classic and beautiful, not this crap!!!
    400 Millions $ for this????

  2. topher says

    I agree with Erick. I was speaking to a councilman yesterday about the city of Los Angeles and it’s esthetic approach. For some unknown reason the city strives low in design. There are so much talk about developing downtown LA into a world class city. We have all these great architects and designers in the city and yet we don’t have much to show for. Observe the cities all over the world…..China, Dubai, Europe for example. They’ve all moved into the future and yet we, Los Angeles, still feels like we are stuck in the past. I’ve recently visited Shanghai. This is one city with amazing architecture whether new or old. Come on people, this is our chance to shine and show the world what we’ve got!

  3. Jerell says

    I agree with Brigham, its not a bad design. Could we have gotten something with a lil more flare?? Yes, but this design isn’t horrible.

    Buildings tend to look better when built also so we’ll see.

  4. Rob Nesbitt says

    What I find interesting is that many of the fantastic new designs in Asia and the Middle East are created by architects right here in L.A. Why don’t we have inspired designs here? Could it be our city planners and politicians? I am continually astounded that with all the talent and creativity here that we don’t have much to show for it. How many more apartment complexes and strip shopping centers must we endure with the Spanish/Italian/ fake/cheap look?

  5. Alan H says

    Let’s hope the final rendering gives us less Borg Cube, and more forward- thinking architecture.

  6. topher says

    I agree that the cube design is not horrible…but realistically, can we think OUTSIDE of the BOX? (Pun intended.) And… it’s already been done in Salt Lake City. Is there a lack of inspiration and creativity that we have to copycat others? Like Rob said, it’s astounding that these amazing designs overseas are done by architects in our very own back yard. What is wrong with this picture? Why can’t we apply them here? I don’t get it.

  7. Franny27 says

    This has nothing to do with “LA”. It’s the federal government that’s building this.

  8. In Disbelief says

    I’m in disbelief…this looks like it was designed for Los Angeles in 1966.

    THIS is what’s going in in vicinity of Disney Hall and the new Broad Center? Are they serious?!

  9. Given the tight federal budget on this project (the size and scope have really shrunk since its original proposal), what design anywhere in the world (China, Dubai, USA, etc.) would be a good fit for this location?

    Please feel free to post links if inclined.

  10. Franny27 says

    $400 mil is NOT a tight budget. In fact i’d be surprised if any of the courthouses that have been built over the last 10 years cost that much. 400 mil is more than enough to build a safe building that GSA wants, but also one that is architecturally unique. There were 2 innovative local firms in competition to design this, yazdani studio and brooks/scarpa, yet the government picked a safe, stale multinational company. Unsurprisingly, the result is a boring dated design. The only notable thing about the buildings SOM usually design is that some of them are really really tall. That’s it.

    • bjornson says

      My sentiments exactly. The love affair with SOM is unbearable sometimes. I couldn’t bring myself to undermine the (lack of) integrity they have in their designs. There’s an efficiency to it that lacks refinement. I don’t know how it could get better to be honest unless it’s really tall or has some mundane detail that doesn’t matter.

      I was pushing for the two you mentioned but I’d take Morphosis, EOM, or any other local firm capable of ambitious design.

  11. John g. says

    Agree with topher and Franny27.

    This design could have been much better.

    Being a Federal Building doesn’t preclude it from being architecturally unique. What’s going on here?!!

    Even New York has a better edifice complex. With L.A. now entering a new phase of Urban Renewal, we are lowering ourselves to nothing more than pure Urban Infill. Will we continue to make the same mistakes like we did with sprawl? Cheap construction wherever land is available? Common! This is downtown!!! :-(

  12. brudy says

    Come on, urban infill? That’s a little extreme. I’m not in love with this, but for a federal building this could have been a lot worse. I do generally like glassy, clean boxes though.

  13. topher says

    I second John g. and Franny27. $400 mil should be more than enough unless most of that money is going into some corrupted officials deep pockets. Its certainly not a tight budget. It’s not the size that concerns me…it’s the design. Federal Buildings don’t have to be boring. It can be iconic.

    Here are some links to cool architecture happening around the world except in LA. Why are we holding back?

  14. Cristian Reyes says

    yaaaaaaaaa……not gonna lie, after looking at the brooks/scrapa design renderings for the court house, im definitely liking that one much better than the one SOM designed. Im no architecture connoisseur, but ive seen some of SOM’s designs, including their skyscrapers in other countries, and they have some beautiful designs. In fact, I think one of their skyscrapers was nominated by the AIA as the top 10 architectural designs of this year. So im kinda shocked that they produced such a bland design. However, things could change so im hopeful that they will, or that if they dont, the execution will look much better in person than in the rendering.

  15. ernie says

    I find the design boxy and boring. In that area you have the iconic City Hall Building,Cal Trans futuristic building,LA Times and U.S. Court House Art-Deco icons,a 1960’s Brutalistic/Minimalist Criminal Courts building and the Romanesque Hall of Justice. This is a great opportunity to build something that would compliment that area.

  16. Rogelio says

    It’s a shame that at a time when downtown is finally coming back to life, we accept such uninspired and mediocre buildings that fail to elevate the built environment to a much more pleasing and humanistic public realm.

    City Hall, the Hall of Justice and the current Federal Courthouse all deserve better accompaniment than just another unsustainable glass cube. It looks like a regular office building rather than a site where a citizenry and its government meet on such important matters of freedom and justice.

    Although probably not as appropriate for LA and different in scale, Tuscaloosa’s new Federal Courthouse is a much more dignified and beautifully detailed building that respects and exudes its importance and purpose.

    • brudy says

      I’m sorry but that Tuscaloosa building is awful. The last thing I’d ever want to see in LA is a neo-classical monstrosity. It’s as if Caruso designed it as some pie-in-the-sky ode to democracy.

      • Rogelio says

        There would need to be some serious design considerations taken into account in order to make a temple facade work for the scale of the building in LA, but I’m sure it could be done.

        Your comment about the Tuscaloosa courthouse clearly shows how ignorant you are of classical architecture, especially to mention it in the same breath as Caruso. HBRA is one of the few firms that actually does it correctly and their design leaves no error of interpretation that you’re entering a courthouse, not a random office building. The best cities have a hierarchy of buildings and spaces and the SOM design blatantly eschews that.

        • brudy says

          I never claimed to be conservant in classical architecture. But I’m also not sure where the rule book is that says a courthouse has to look like the Parthenon. I don’t believe that gravitas or imprimatur must be built with large columns, or even that a courthouse even needs to be loaded up with those specific concepts. What’s wrong with lightness and glass as beacon of justice and fairness rather than something dark and brooding? The building needs to be impressive in some way, but I don’t think structures don’t need to scream their specific use by referencing the past so literally.

          I’m also not saying that the glass cube is perfect. I like it enough, but it could have been a lot worse – and better – for that matter.

      • Aurora says

        @ brudy “pie-in-the-sky ode to democracy” made me for real laught out loud. Honestly, I like the glass cube better. I love old historic buildings but building in that style now seems forced and contrived.

    • That is the worst piece of architecture, what are we in a theatrical experience pretending we are from the 1600s ?

      This one by SOM is bad, because it is stuck in the 50’s, but it is 350 years better then Tuscaloosa….

  17. Emma Thackeray says

    From the bird’s eye view it looks like an apple store.

  18. Jean-Luc says

    Though building style is important, I think it’s even more important to ensure the building interacts well with the street and doesn’t add blank walls or energy-sapping embankments against the sidewalks.
    The Hill side of the rendering appears to be a giant wall.

    • I’m with you. We need to ensure this building (in whatever form it ultimately takes) will allow pedestrians to interact with it, and not just walk by. There’s a reason the Civic Center (with the exception of Grand Park) is dead on the weekends. It’s sad that there is nowhere for Grand Park visitors to grab a inexpensive sit-down meal between 2nd Street and the 101. (Food trucks are novel and delicious, but don’t provide a decent sit-down meal.) The lack of restaurants and other amenities in this neighborhood needs to change if we want this neighborhood to be activated.

  19. William says

    The Brooks+Scarpa design was much better, but then again the Perkins Will design was quite good. Too bad the Federal government did not just keep that original design, and then scale it down (to meet the reduced budget). They could have had a good design and saved some money. Oh, what am I saying? Forgive me– “Long live government waste and mediocrity!”

  20. Sebastian says

    This looks like it can fit in that area pretty well. ^^

  21. William says

    It’s funny but the sensuousness of Zaha’s work would never fit with an “up tight” Washington bureaucracy–too arousing!

  22. Sebastian says

    The building is nice, but it will never become a landmark. Downtown L.A. should be working towards landmark buildings.

  23. Lawrence says

    The more I look at the renderings, the more I like the building. The additional images provide a better idea of the building’s orientation in relation to the street and the cladding. It’s not a groundbreaking design, but I don’t think it will look bad, which was my initial thought.

  24. William says

    Brigham, just a thought. If possible can you manage to scare-up renderings from the competing design firms? If so, you could post them and ask readers to rate them and then take a vote. Although it would not change the minds of the GAO and powers that be, but it would be fun.

  25. come on this UGLY and OUTDATED. Personally i wish we would continue to follow the lead of U.S. Representative Jeff Denham (

    The city should sell the land to pay to fix up the current Fed bldgs. The land then can be use for more densely smart projects with commercial, retail and resident.

    But the bigger problem for growth is old outdate laws, permit process and lack of city councils vision for the future.

  26. Topher says

    Hi everyone. This was posted on curbed LA today. This is what the fed courthouse should have been instead of the un-inspired design by SOM. There must be some special deal with SOM. Sad day for Los Angeles. Is there anyway we can petition for this design instead? After all it is our tax money and we should have a say in what we want for our city!


    • Aurora says

      Such a bummer they didn’t choose that one. It would have been a great addition to our skyline. The SOM design doesn’t add anything at all!

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