I can’t believe it’s finally done! And I’m not just talking about the three years it took to finish building the newest — and might I add, very striking — edifice now added proudly to Downtown LA’s expansive Civic Center. Yes, the new shiny and environmentally-friendly US Courthouse is officially complete with the first federal judges planning to move in by early November. But it took a lot longer than three years to get to this point as the federal building was proposed all the way back in 2001. You might remember that this 3.6 acre lot that the new courthouse sits on was once nothing more than an abandoned dirt lot that was not only a huge embarrassing eyesore to Los Angeles’s name but was also a significant reason why the Civic Center was, and still is to a certain degree, severely disjointed (there are other reasons why the Civic Center lacks coherency that you can read about here).
Yesterday, I joined a group of other media outlets for a special tour of the US Courthouse (today is the actual grand opening with a ribbon cutting ceremony). After passing through airport-like security (yes you’ll have to take your shoes off), it was amazing to walk into the grand entryway and see the towering atrium above illuminated by natural light and lined with a total of 24 courtrooms and 32 judicial chambers. Last year in September, I also had a chance to get a hard hat tour of the courthouse, so it was extra interesting for me to compare and contrast what it was like before when the building was still under construction versus walking through the completed building now. Check out my hard hat tour from last year here and see the difference for yourself.
The tour group was led by both the US General Services Administration (GSA) and the building’s architects from SOM who introduced to us the environmentally friendly features of the courthouse. The more obvious feature of the soaring central light-well, that spans from the top of the building 220 feet above all the way to the lobby floor, provides ample natural lighting that reduces electricity consumption. This is in addition to the 1,672 serrated window panels that wrap around the building in a north-south orientation that not only maximize daylight but also reduce solar heat by 47 percent according to architect Craig Hartman from SOM. With 525,000 annual kWh generated from rooftop solar panels and a 105,000 gallon underground rainwater cistern used for irrigating the drought tolerant landscaping, it’s not hard to see why we were told the building is on track to achieve LEED Platium certification.
Now that the US Courthouse is completed, it was very interesting for me to stand and observe pedestrians walking by the structure with quite a few I saw pausing for a moment to stare at the glassy architecture. With the steep grade change along First Street, it gave SOM a reason to include in the design a series of grand civic staircases that give the otherwise mundane slope a more dynamic and visually compelling feature to interact with. Strategically, the courthouse will continue to play a central role within the growing transit world of Los Angeles as it is flanked by the Civic Center subway station at First and Hill and the future Regional Connector subway station at Second and Broadway that will open in 2021.
Civic Center looking up…