92 ARCHITECTURAL RECORD MARCH 2017 BUILDING TYPE STUDY CIVIC United States Courthouse | Los Angeles | Skidmore, Owings & Merrill Day in Court A light-filled civic building animates and engages a rapidly urbanizing downtown. BY CATHLEEN MCGUIGAN PHOTOGRAPHY BY BRUCE DAMONTE T he modern courthouse is a paradoxical building type— it is part of the city but should also be apart from the city—magisterial and imposing, yet also a public place where almost everyone ends up eventually, even if just for jury duty. The architects behind the new United States Court house in downtown Los Angeles were acutely aware of the challenges they faced in creating a major civic presence while engaging with a rapidly changing neighborhood, one that is increas ingly used by pedestrians and dotted with a constellation of high profile cultural and public buildings. The courthouse, on a sloping site facing 1st Street, is two blocks down from Frank Gehry’s 2003 Walt Disney Concert Hall, with its silvery furls crowning the hilltop, and two blocks up from Morphosis’s 2004 CalTrans Center, with its tough facade and expansive plaza. While it is quieter than either of those neighbors, its strong, simple form—a floating ice cube, wrapped in gleaming vertical pleats of glass—make it a dramatically faceted gem in a stillevolving urban realm. The project had a somewhat tortured history, with the Los Angeles office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), led by Craig Hartman, competing for it twice. Under the General Services Administration (GSA) Design Excellence program, the firm lost a first competition to Perkins+Will, which had designed a 17story tower that would have cost a reported $1.1 billion. A Congressional budget slash killed that scheme; FLOATING ICE CUBE Anchoring a key downtown site, with the Walt Disney Concert Hall nearby (below, at right), the courthouse is a shimmering presence, its pleated glass skin changing with the weather and time of day. The 10-story atrium (opposite), ringed by walkways and crisscrossed by bridges, is filled with natural light.