9.3 Architectural and Interior Design

White Plains Courthouse
White Plains Courthouse

This section addresses technical requirements for architectural materials and systems which should be provided in buildings designed to serve the U.S. Courts. Specific requirements are presented for all special or unique Courts spaces and Court-related agencies, including those to accommodate the U.S. Marshals Service. See Chapter 13 of USCDG and Chapter 3 of this document for additional information.

General building design concepts for GSA-owned structures are based on an overall “systems” approach, utilizing all design elements of the building including: ceiling cavities; floor plenums created by use of access flooring; stacked vertical distribution cores; and centrally located support areas; to increase functionality, improve flexibility for future modifications, and provide buildings which are efficient regarding construction, operation and maintenance costs.

Building Enclosure Systems
The baseline standard for quality of exterior materials for U.S. Court facilities is stone, brick, precast concrete, or other materials of substantial architectural character. Fundamental construction standards for the majority of the exterior building systems are discussed in Chapter 3.

Specific additional provisions for U.S. Court facilities include:

  • Vehicular sallyport doors that meet USMS requirements.
  • Appropriate (ballistic-resistant) glazing at various levels of a facility.
  • Physical and electronic security design features at vulnerable areas that will decrease risk of attack to occupants or escape of prisoners.
  • Level 4 classification of the DOJ Vulnerability Assessment and the Medium level protection of the Interagency Security Criteria.

Floor Systems
An important issue in the design of GSA-owned structures has been the evaluation and selection of an appropriate floor system, especially with the potential of using the plenum below for the horizontal distribution of conditioned air, power, data, telecommunication, and low-voltage system cabling; plus the related flexibility in position of connections above the floor. Accessible flooring systems can be defined as a suspended floor plane above the structural slab with relocatable modular components. Chapter 3 outlines appropriate dimensional characteristics of access floor systems for Federal facilities, describing the use of a 600 mm by 600 mm (2-foot by 2-foot) grid, having a clear raised depth, below floor supporting construction able to accommodate building system distribution below the floor. Access flooring shall be used in appropriate areas in courthouses, which include courtrooms, chambers, offices, conference rooms, etc.

It is extremely important to take in to account the height of the accessible floor system in the determination of floor-to-floor dimensions.

Standard floor finishes within each function of the Courts facility need to be selected primarily on the basis of acoustic enhancement and general durability.

The USCDG contains detailed information on specific requirements for the use of carpet and other floor finish materials under each category of functional space. The USMS-RSSPSSM contains the very stringent requirements for the USMS in all detention-related areas of their facilities.

Interior Wall Systems
Interior Partition Systems. Most interior wall partitions will be composed of gypsum board on metal studs with the exception of USMS detention spaces. (There may be instances in the general building construction where concrete masonry is used if building elements, including elevator or plumbing shafts, are stacked systematically floor upon floor.) Refer to the USCDG for further information related to recommended interior partition construction.

Ceiling Systems 
Chapter 3 outlines the general parameters for selection of a ceiling system in typical office spaces and recommends the use of a standard 600 mm by 600 mm (2-foot by 2-foot) suspension system with a commercial quality, acoustic ceiling tile. The use of this system allows future flexibility in partition arrangement and corresponding relocation of mechanical diffusers, lights, sprinklers, and components of other systems such as speakers and fire alarm notification appliances.

There are several types of spaces with custom ceiling system requirements, which may include courtrooms public spaces, office and conference spaces of the courts or other agencies, and detainee areas. In historic buildings, satisfy acoustical requirements using removable finishes and features so that original ornamental surfaces may be maintained.

Courtrooms: Acoustic characteristics and aesthetics are the main considerations in the selection of a ceiling system. The ceiling design and materials must enhance the acoustic performance of the well area. (Ideal reverberation time in a courtroom is 0.5 to 0.6 seconds). This will involve the use of reflective and absorptive materials in the space.

Public Spaces: The ceiling system must accommodate future changes to the layout of the space and allow access for maintenance of the building systems above and within the ceiling plane including: mechanical systems; diffuser locations; smoke detectors; communication devices; lights; and life safety devices. Acoustic tile in a suspended ceiling grid is typically provided in these areas, along with supplemental use of gypsum wallboard in soffits, perimeter coves, recesses and reveals.

Office and Conference Spaces: Flexibility and durability are also the main considerations in the selection of a ceiling system which must accommodate change and accessibility above the ceiling plane. The ceiling material should absorb sound to provide speech privacy and control transfer of noise from machines, computers, light ballasts, and other sources within adjacent office areas.

Detainee Areas: Security and durability are the main considerations in the selection of a ceiling system. Refer to USMS-RSSPSSM for suggested ceiling materials in these spaces.

The USCDG outlines all of the appropriate interior finishes for U.S. Court related spaces.

Fixed and Movable Furniture
Components to be provided by GSA in U.S Court facilities include furniture and millwork required for the operations of the courts in courtrooms, grand jury, hearing room, jury assembly room, and public transaction counters. In general, built-in furniture needs to be designed with integral cable raceways plus conduits sized for future expansion and change. Built-in furnishings will also include access panels to permit easy cable and wiring changes. Provisions for power, data and telecommunication outlets and inputs; sound and other systems shall be confirmed during the Design Development Phase of the project on a position-by-position basis. Courthouse and office furniture systems must meet a variety of needs, and selection of these systems must consider function, cost, availability, and aesthetic criteria. The selection and design of fixed and movable furniture should be carefully coordinated to achieve a consistent image, proper function, and required clearances.

Movable furniture to be provided by GSA in the U.S. Court facilities will consist of miscellaneous items, to include lecterns, council tables for courtrooms, and grand jury spaces.

Typical provisions for moveable furnishings in U.S. Courts are indicated in tables provided for each category of space use in the USCDG. All items to be provided by the GSA within the baseline rent charges are assumed to be included within the anticipated construction budget.

Refer to the USMS-RSSPSSM for a detailed description of USMS fixed and movable furniture requirements in U.S. Court Facilities.

Fixed Components
Table 9-2 outlines the basic fixed furniture elements that are provided for all Courts related functions.

Signage and Graphics
Many Federal Courthouses are large, complex structures requiring clear and coordinated systems of signage and way finding which allows first time users to locate their place of involvement in the judicial process as quickly and directly as possible.

A standardized system of signage, with interchangeable components, is required throughout the courthouse. ADA Accessibility Guidelines are specific about parameters of design including location, size, color, and tactile qualities of signage and use of graphic symbols to assist nonreaders.

Table 9-2 Typical Interior Fixed Furniture Elements

Courtroom Judge’s Bench (Refer to USCDG for specific configuration.)
Deputy Clerk Desk (Adaptable for computer and printer.)
Witness Box
Fixed base chairs for jury and one not fixed
Spectator Rail
Jury Box
Spectator Benches
Grand Jury Room Bench
Witness Stand
Jury Rails
Judge’s Chambers Suite Kitchen-type serving unit with sink (Cabinets above and below)
Book shelves
Judge’s Robing Room Lockers for robes
Judge’s Toilet Vanity, mirror, and medicine cabinet
Jury Assembly Check-In counter
Coat closet with rods
Kitchenette-type serving unit (Cabinets above and below)
Jury Areas Toilets with vanity and mirror
Kitchenette-type serving unit
Coat closet with rods
Library Spaces Stand-up counter
All Public Areas Stand-up counters
USMS Detention Cells Benches
Modesty screen
USMS Prisoner/Attorney Interview Counter
Stool (Prisoner side)
USMS Reception/Cashier Service counter
USMS Staff Locker Rooms (Men’s and Women’s) Lockers and benches
Grooming shelf and mirrors
Metal lockers
Hooks or open closet rod and shelf for coats
USMS & CSOS Work/Mail Room Base cabinets
Work surface
Note: Refer to USMS-RSSPSSM for related furniture.

In addition to providing all general building identification and way-finding signage; GSA will supply all Courts related signs in public corridors of the building. Signage requirements within the Courts dedicated space, related to their function, will be provided by the Courts. Signs for life safety and public convenience (restrooms) within the functional areas of the Courts are supplied by GSA.

For installation of signage in historic buildings, the design team shall consult with the RHPO regarding the following requirements.

The following signage shall be furnished by GSA, and any remaining requirements will be determined and provided by the Courts:

Identification/Information Signage

  • Building Identification/Seal/Cornerstone
  • Division/Department, Tenant Agency Identification
  • Courtroom/Room/Area Identification
  • Special Function Identification – Library, Media Center, Cafeteria, etc.

Directional Signage

  • Main Directory at Building Entrance – Graphic Plan
  • Floor Directory on each floor – Graphic Plan
  • Directory of Building Occupants with Suite Locations
  • Directional Signage for Building Access by Handicapped
  • Directional Signage for Parking/Restricted Entrances
  • Directional Signage for Service Vehicles

Regulatory/Security Signage

  • Signage for Core Functions – Restrooms, stairs, telephones, and other elements on ADA accessible path to building services.
  • Signage for Controlled Access Areas – Judicial and staff areas and if admission to controlled areas is based upon recognizance, instructions for operating the call button/camera must be provided at the controlled door.
  • Signage for Dedicated Systems/Facilities – Elevators, stairs, staff restrooms (Identification as dedicated and regulations for use stated)
  • Signage for Special Locking Arrangements

Emergency Evacuation Route Signage

  • Emergency evacuation route signage shall be posted in a tamper resistant frame or engraved on a placard that is mounted on the walls in each passenger elevator lobby, freight elevator lobby, and any mechanical spaces that may be occupied by contractors or other personnel not familiar with floor layouts and exit locations. The minimum size of the signage shall be 8 1/2 inches by 11 inches. This signage shall be depicted in either landscape or portrait form depending on the architectural layout and orientation of the elevator lobbies at each floor. {Also provide labeling as required in PBS ORDER 3490.1, Paragraph 7.d.(1), dated March 8, 2002.}
  • The signage shall consist of a CADD generated floor plan for each floor with the evacuation routes identified (show routes to two different exits with directional arrows). Provide a “YOU ARE HERE” designation pointing directly to the signs final installed orientation. Also provide a main heading titled “EVACUATION PLAN”. This signage may contain a zoomed in core area of the building (for a larger view of routes) if all evacuation routes and evacuation stairways are legibly shown. The signage shall contain a LEGEND for clarification purposes of any additional items shown on these evacuation plans. Also, include the following statement on plans “IN CASE OF FIRE DO NOT USE ELEVATORS - USE STAIRS”.

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Last Reviewed 2016-08-02