Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects
United States Courthouse, Austin, Texas
Awarded a citation
Austin's new, well-lit courthouse links federal, state, and city areas and provides new opportunities for gatherings, intermingling, and fraternizing among different local entities.
The United States Courthouse in Austin, Texas is distinguished by its relationship to Republic Square Park and San Antonio Plaza, bringing together federal, state (the park), and city (San Antonio Plaza) entities into a happily compatible coexistence in downtown Austin. The closing of San Antonio Street and the creation of the plaza effectively links the courthouse and the park as a single rectilinear block. Events in the park and on or around the plaza spill onto the courthouse steps, the plinth, and occasionally into the event space on the first level of the courthouse.
Just as the co-joining of the plaza, park and courthouse creates new opportunity for outdoor public events, the internal co-joining of the main entry lobby and the jury assembly space creates opportunity for public gatherings where originally there was no program area for such events. The judiciary envisions celebrations after special proceedings and other courts-initiated events, as well as events hosted at the invitation of the courts. These events may extend into the jury assembly garden as well as the elevator lobby and secure garden to the west.
Unlike most contemporary federal courthouses, the Austin courthouse features windows, views, and daylight in every courtroom and public space in the building.
The courthouse is also distinguished by the configuration of its native limestone exterior cladding. Standard and economical limestone units are installed in horizontal and randomly canted rows, presenting the back or sawn face of the limestone to the public and the more popular rough face turned inward, hidden from view. The installation sets up an active pattern of shade and shadow throughout the day.
The jury found this project to be a finely crafted instrument, unapologetically modern, appropriately conveying the dignity of the institution. The connection to the heavily used public plaza is so important, and the building entry and lobby serve very effectively as extensions and enhancements to the public space. Clearly a mature expression, this reinterpretation of the judiciary manifests itself as grounded in its place, simultaneously exuberant yet modest, even restrained, spatially and functionally complex, subtle and consummately graceful in its detail, thorough and fittingly attentive throughout.
The well-proportioned, asymmetrical courtrooms seem to rest comfortably balanced between formality and wit. Much of the richness seems to be communicated directly through the well-choreographed palette of materials that expresses appropriateness and longevity through fine workmanship—an exemplary project in every aspect.