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waking up to architecture

by LiveModern Webmaster last modified Jan 23, 2012 01:04 AM
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by bubba of the bubbles ( last modified Jan 22, 2012



Every morning we wake up to the newfederal courthouse under construction about a block away (photo above from ourbedroom window). It's a glorious site. The design is unusually inspired for afederal building, especially compared to the HamptonInn Michael Graves designed for federal affairs in Nashville (Graves needsto stick to toasters and teakettles...). Although I'm somewhat bummed the fedsdidn't choose someone local to design the courthouse, Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects, with somehelp from some locals, came up with a fantastic design.

Federal courthouses these days,especially with the ever-present threat of domestic and internationalterrorism, aren't the most open and cuddly buildings around. Therefore, theAustin judges, to their credit, asked the architects to develop an"unusually extroverted" building, doubly important because thestructure faces a public park, Republic Square.Along those lines, the building actively engages the park, is"front-faced" on all sides, has lots of windows and elevated outdoorareas, and, reportedly, a green roof. In a nod to the farmers market held inthe park every Saturday, the street between the courthouse and the park will beclosed off and designed to accommodate the market. Hows that strike yerturnips?

The building is subtractive cubistwith a facade made of glass, crenulated limestone, and metal that changes incolor from silver to bronze to black depending on the angle of light (I wonderwhat that stuff is).The architects state that "[t]he stability of the cubic form exemplifiesthe strength, coherence and dignity of the judicial system." The New YorkTimes thinks the design represents tension "between the desire to upholdcore democratic values and a growing sense of instability".

The building has a number of greenfeatures including rainwater harvesting, daylighting, and a super-efficientHVAC system. The grounds will include an outdoor jury garden for [ahem] contemplation.The building aims for LEEDS silver.

As an interesting historical note:Austin's currentcourthouse is an austere art deco ditty built with federal stimulus dollarsin the 1930s in response to the Great Depression, while this new courthouse isbeing built with stimulus dollars in response to the Great Recession (theproject had been conceived earlier but benefitted from being shovel ready whenstimulus funding became available).

When it's finished, I hope I getsummoned to jury service!




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