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On the Horizon: U.S. Courthouse Los Angeles

By Adam Moore

Crews broke ground on Los Angeles' new federal courthouse, a 3-year, $319 million project located in the city's rebounding Civic District. 

It’s been nearly two decades since federal judges in Los Angeles began lobbying the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) for a new courthouse, and seven years since the proposed design was canceled amid delays and cost-overruns, but the end is finally in sight for one of the most debated public projects in the city’s recent history.

Crews broke ground on the new courthouse—this one designed in partnership between Clark Construction Group and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)—in early August, officially starting the 3-year, $319 million project located in the city’s rebounding Civic District, home to landmarks like the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Los Angeles Cathedral.

“This is a significant step forward in fulfilling our obligation to the Judiciary for a new courthouse that addresses their long-standing security and space needs in Los Angeles,” says Ruth Cox, the GSA’s Pacific Rim regional administrator.

Clark/SOM’s concept, referred to as the “Cube” because of its shape, represents a modern interpretation of the classic tripartite design elements of base, body and cornice. An innovative structural engineering concept allows the glass-encased courthouse to appear to float over its stone base, while also giving it the strength to stand up to earthquakes and bomb threats.

“The shape of this courthouse, through its simplicity and luminous, Euclidean clarity, will define its role as an important and timeless addition to Los Angeles’ governmental precinct,” says SOM Partner Craig Hartman. “Its gardens, courtyards and civic plaza will convey a generous sense of public-spiritedness.”

Sustainability has also been a cornerstone of the building plans, with the final design targeting LEED Platinum certification. The courthouse’s serrated façade is designed to achieve a north-to-south orientation that will maximize daylight and views, while reducing solar heat gain by 47 percent. It will also include a 400 kW roof-mounted photovoltaic array that will produce 525,000 kWh annually.

As with the exterior design concept, the courthouse’s interior promises to create a strong civic presence rooted in classic principles. Its light-filled courtyard will emphasize openness and transparency, while updated trial preparation spaces for the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Federal Public Defender will provide equal opportunities for justice to be served.

The approximately 600,000-square-foot facility is scheduled for completion in the summer of 2016. For more information, visit