News
11.16.2012
Approach the Bench
SOM wins commission to design LA's downtown federal courthouse.
The site of LA's planned new courthouse.
Courtesy Bing Maps

SOM and Clark Construction have won the commission to design the Los Angeles Federal Courthouse. The building is set to rise on a site that is now a giant dirt pit between the LA Times Building and the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

At press time, the commission had not been formally announced, but a General Services Administration (GSA) staff member, who would not be named, confirmed the appointment.

The new courthouse, located at 107 S. Broadway, will measure 600,000 square feet and is projected to cost $399 million. It will contain 24 courtrooms and 32 judicial chambers, and its primary tenants will include the U.S. District Court, the U.S. Marshals Service, the GSA, the Federal Public Defender, and the U.S. Attorney’s office.

The RFQ for the project was released back in February, and the other finalists for the job included Yazdani Studio and Gruen Associates with Hensel Phelps; Brooks + Scarpa and HMC Architects with McCarthy; and NBBJ with Mortensen.

Since the winner has not been officially announced, neither the GSA nor SOM would comment on the win, but it’s without doubt a huge coup for a firm that only recently re-established a presence in Los Angeles with a new design studio. The office is being started up by Michael Mann, Paul Danna, and Jose Luis Palacios, who all left AECOM to re-establish ties with their former firm.

The GSA hopes the courthouse will be completed by 2016, a tight deadline intended to avoid escalating construction costs. The agency has come under fire for lavish spending in general, and this project has been under particular scrutiny from Republican Congressman Jeff Denham, who represents California’s 19th Congressional District, surrounding Fresno. “I get it, I know these judges would love to have a much bigger, palatial courtroom with lots of extra room and big conference rooms. The question is can we afford it?” Denham told the LA Times.

In addition to the courthouse, the GSA hopes to build an adjacent federal building, whose design team has not yet been chosen. To pay for that project, the agency plans to sell its landmark art deco courthouse at 312 North Spring Street.

“This plan would save millions in tax dollars and ensure the North Spring Street courthouse does not become another excess property on the government’s books,” Dan Tangherlini, acting administrator for the GSA, said in a statement.

Plans for a new downtown courthouse have in fact been in the works for close to a decade. In 2005 Perkins + Will was chosen to design a building with a curving facade and a giant atrium, but the plan was cancelled due to escalating costs. Now hopes are high that the giant hole in the heart of LA—which fills with water when it rains—will finally be filled.

Sam Lubell