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Monday, November 24, 2008

United States Federal Courthouse, Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Safdie’s Federal Courthouse opens in Massachusetts
Like a good wine, Moshe Safdie gets better with age. The architect’s new federal courthouse in Springfield Massachusetts is one of his finest works to date. Boston Globe Architecture critic Robert Campbell calls the building “remarkable” saying, “It sets a new standard for public buildings.”

In form, colour and materiality the new courthouse stands in contradistinction to its surroundings, a neighborhood of closely clustered red brick and dark stone buildings, mostly rectilinear in form. Into this mix of stalwart structures, is situated Safdie’s courthouse, a white curvilinear structure of precast concrete, limestone and glass that is remarkably transparent, considering the building had to meet stiff security requirements that called for minimal visibility. The building, which wraps itself around two heritage trees, houses three courtrooms with a fourth for expansion, court-related departments including clerks and probation and non court agencies including US Marshals, US Attorneys and US Congressmen. Unlike many Safdie-designed buildings which achieve their monumentalism through over-scaling, this building strikes the right chord in its scaling.

The building reveals itself in layers. The outermost layer is a curved colonnade, which like the Roman Coliseum and Safdie’s Vancouver library, functions as a public circulation corridor off of which is located the main program spaces. On the innermost side of this colonnade is a glass screen with minimal framing. Behind this screen is located a limestone wall with large openings and an inner wall. The innermost wall, which leads to the courtrooms, accommodates a 200 ft-long mural by the American artist Sol LeWitt.

The $57 million project completed in the fall 2008.

Sharon McHugh
US Correspondent
architecture NOW

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