Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Architectural Excellence in Public Buildings

Public buildings, especially many federal structures, are famous for their drab appearance and strictly functional design. That's what makes the design of the new U.S. federal court house in Springfield, MA, so notable.

Two key limitations forced the creativity of the final design: the desire to incorporate and save two prominent trees on the site, and cost restrictions in an environment of ever increasing construction costs.
  • When the tree warden advised that digging within 30 feet of either tree would kill it, the architect arrived at a plan to incorporate the trees as the center-piece, with the building wrapping around the trees in a long curve. The result is a stunning modern design that contrasts with the more traditional brick and stone adjacent structures, including the Catholic Cathedral, historic Springfield Armory, Library, and Quadrangle museums, while speaking to the important role of the federal courts in balancing man made and natural law.
  • Cost restrictions resulted in several ad hoc changes during construction, with the end result a structure that invites natural lighting throughout, incorporates a dramatic passageway from the Judge's chambers to the courtroom, and a design that uses light and height to create an open clear setting in the courtroom.
Designed and constructed under a General Services Administration program called "Design Excellence," the new federal courthouse in Springfield is an example of what can be done right, despite budget restrictions and sensitivity to the natural characteristics of the site.

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