Every year the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) takes time to recognize the exceptional work of the employees who work tirelessly to produce federal buildings that are built to stand the test of time. This year, the Heartland Region was honored with the prestigious “Citation in Architecture” for the Cedar Rapids U.S. Courthouse project.
The courthouse, which exemplifies design excellence in the GSA inventory of owned assets, was selected based on a professional jury deliberation, comprised of industry architects, professionals, and educators.
Open since November 2012, the courthouse in Cedar Rapids is a true testament in architecture to 21st century federal service. The building encompasses district, magistrate, and bankruptcy courts, as well as appellate court judge chambers and ancillary facilities. Positioned at the southern terminus of an important downtown street, the volume and adjacent outdoor space effect a public square, and extensive glazing of the building’s north elevation reveals a six-story atrium where the public circulates among five courtrooms. Stone and wood harmonize with the glass curtain wall, and convey gravitas.
In Iowa’s 99 counties, courthouses share a common cause and design language. Most county courthouses anchor a central town square, and their interior atria serve as counterparts to the expansive public space outside. By paying homage to architectural tradition in the Hawkeye State in this way, the courthouse shapes perception of federal justice as approachable and participatory. It also yields functional benefits. The transparent building envelope increases daylight penetration, conserving energy and enhancing the productivity of occupants, and it communicates interior circulation to citizens who may be entering for the first time.
Flooding that devastated downtown Cedar Rapids in 2008 sped construction funding of the new courthouse, and jurors praised GSA and its partners for raising the site nearly nine feet before executing the project. The move not only prepares for future climate events, but also allowed more seamless integration of security and accessibility measures into the public square. By responding to the flood in this manner, the courthouse collaborators underscored a commitment to the vitality of downtown Cedar Rapids, and reinforced their project’s openness to the community.
The GSA Design Awards celebrate the accomplishments of GSA’s finest employees and the talented architects, engineers, landscape architects, urban designers, interior designers, artists, conservationists, and preservationists who create and safeguard the nation’s landmarks.