For ages, the ugly dirt lot at First and Broadway across the LA Times building sat as an eyesore and an embarrassment to LA’s disconnected Civic Center becoming a flooded pit after the occasional SoCal heavy rainfall. Definitely shameful for the nation’s second largest city in my book. Then about two years ago in August 2013, the $318 million US Federal Courthouse project finally broke ground and has been actively under construction ever since then filling in this 3.6 acre lot. About a week ago, I took a hard-hat tour of the construction site with some of the main principles involved with the project (including the building’s architect from Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and contractors from Clark Construction) to give our readers an inside look at the current state of what’s going on here.
We started in the construction office trailers near Second and Hill and began to check out the perimeter of the project. We gazed up at the gleaming courthouse, which is now almost completely wrapped in its distinctive blue glass panels that form a zigzag pattern meant to allow a certain amount of sunlight in that helps to keep the building energy efficient. The courthouse is on target to reach platinum status for LEED certification. Altogether, there will be 1,672 panels that wrap around the cube-shaped building.
Currently, with tons of scaffolding, construction equipment and debris everywhere, it’s still pretty hard to really tell how the finished project will affect the surrounding area from a pedestrian level. Will it enhance the walking experience? I am optimistic that it will help toward making our Civic Center more coherent and less disjointed. Obviously, anything would be better than the former dirt pit that once sat here, which was beyond anti-pedestrian.
Nevertheless, SOM’s goal was to design the project to balance the needs for security concerns while also contributing to the urban environment. Along Broadway, First, and Hill, there will be attention paid to landscaping along large terraced steps that will match the incline of First Street that eventually greets the Civic Center subway station at First and Hill. Although there won’t be any commercial retail facing the street that would truly help to generate pedestrian activity, aesthetically, it will still be a nice experience on the street level for those who walk by.
Going inside the courthouse, the public will enter through the main lobby oriented toward First Street. High above the lobby entrance, a large white emblem of the eagle representing the Great Seal of the United States is etched into the zigzag windows becoming perhaps the most compelling feature of the building when viewed from First Street.
Upon entering the lobby, I am told that you will immediately notice how bright it’ll be from natural sunlight penetrating into the atrium from windows all over from the sides of the building to the very top. The cavernous atrium will rise to the full height of the building at 220 feet tall, topped with its own zigzag glass. Currently, a large yellow crane extends the height of the atrium blocking out most of the sunlight. In addition, the lobby floor will be heated and cooled by coils circulated with temperature controlled water, helping again to increase energy efficiency within the building.
For me, I wanted to know if the public would be allowed to enter the premises without actually being involved with the courthouse in any way. The answer: Yes. For architecture and city enthusiasts like me and you, we’ll be allowed to enter the lobby on the ground floor, pass security, and enjoy the lobby as well as grabbing a snack at the future dining cafe that will be located toward the back of the building closer to the Second Street side. There will be an outdoor patio connected to the cafe for everyone to enjoy.
When completed in July 2016 less than a year from now, the new federal courthouse will replace the existing one at Temple and Spring (click here to read what I think should happen for the current historic courthouse) and will have 24 courtrooms and 32 judicial chambers that will be used by federal judges, the US Marshals Service, the US attorneys’ office, and the Federal Public Defender. The courtrooms will be concentrated on levels 5 through 10 out of eleven floors of the 630,000 gross square foot building. What’s interesting to me is that each floor is particularly taller than usual at 20 feet instead of the usual, say, 10 feet. So instead of getting a 110 foot structure, we’re getting a taller 220 foot high-rise.
Also, an interesting note I was told before our tour started was that once the courthouse is completed, the area where the construction trailers are currently located could become another future development site. Perhaps we’ll get another high-rise with ground floor retail facing Second Street. One can hope.
To also view renderings of the project, check out architect SOM’s website.