The 10-story courthouse includes ten courtrooms for the District Court of Utah, fourteen judges’ chamber suites, administrative Clerk of the Court offices, the United States Marshal Service, United States Probation, and other federal agencies.
Thomas Phifer and Partners recently completed a United States Courthouse in Salt Lake City for the General Services Administration (GSA). The 400,000 sq. ft. project consists of a blast resistant shell clad with a custom designed anodized aluminum sun screen. The screen is arranged in four configurations dependent on solar orientation, performing as a direct heat gain blocker on the south facades, while subtly changing to a louvered fin configuration on the east and west facades.
The architects won the project in a national competition in the late nineties, however it was just recently completed. Thomas Phifer, Director of Thomas Phifer and Partners, says that during the duration of the project various site changes occurred, and the building design naturally evolved into a particular focus: “We began to think about a building that embodied light as a metaphor for the enlightenment of the courts. It began to fill these spaces inside the courtrooms, the judges chambers. The design came from a sense of light.”
Phifer said a precedent for the project is Donald Judd’s 100 untitled works in mill aluminum (1982-1986). In Judd’s project, each of the boxes he crafted have the same outer dimensions, with a unique interior offering up a variety of tectonic conditions. Some of the boxes are transected, while others have recesses and partitions. Phifer says the project inspired an interest in detailing of the aluminum sun screen: “What’s interesting about his [Judd’s] boxes is their extreme simplicity: it’s important how the plates come together…the beautiful screws. You see the thickness of the aluminum, and the construction honors the material,” says Phifer. “The boxes begin to honor the light surrounding it.”
The architects worked with the curtain wall contractor to develop a custom designed louver system from extruded and milled aluminum components to manage daylight. Everything had to be designed with calculations and technical documentation, including plenty of mock-ups. Phifer says this level of detailing is at the heart of their office’s production: “the facade system developed here was completely new.” This system is punctured in selective places on the facade with a polished stainless steel portal celebrating very specific spaces within the interior such as the judge’s chambers.
“It has the character of receiving light and being a real part of the environment,” says Phifer on the outcomes of the decade-long project. The project could be considered a super-scaled descendant of one of Judd’s well-crafted boxes, but also should be a sophisticated addition to Thomas Phifer and Partners’ repertoire of working with light (a portfolio that includes a 2011 AIA Honor Award for the North Carolina Museum of Art). The results are a robust box, with a beautifully simple, passive performative agenda.