U.S courthouse in Cedar Rapids honored by federal government for design excellence

The United States Courthouse in Cedar Rapids — designed by OPN Architects and William Rawn Associates — has been honored by the U.S. General Services Administration with a 2016 Design Award.

The GSA, which oversees the design and construction of all federally funded projects, confers this award biennially to buildings that achieve design excellence while upholding the principles of public buildings and maximizing tax payer dollars. The courthouse is one of 17 recipients of the award recognizing distinction in architecture, engineering, landscape, urban design, interior design, art, conservation, and preservation.

The courthouse, which opened in 2012 is one of many projects to benefit from federal funding in the wake of the Floods of 2008. The flood waters destroyed the previous courthouse as well as 300 other city-owned buildings and some of the city’s most prominent public structures. The award jury praised the project designers and partners for raising the site nearly 9 feet before executing the project:

“The move not only prepares for future climate events, but also allowed more seamless integration of security and accessibility measures into the public square. By responding to the flood in this manner, the courthouse collaborators underscored a commitment to the vitality of downtown Cedar Rapids, and reinforced their project’s openness to the community.”

The design concept for the courthouse plays homage too and is inspired by Iowa’s tradition of a courthouse anchor on a central town square. Facing toward downtown, the courthouse balances the dual mission of conveying authority while appearing connected and transparent to the community. Glass and stone work in concert simultaneously speaking to the openness and approachability of the democratic institution and the stability and order promised by law.

The courthouse was also recognized by The American Institute of Architects Academy of Architecture for Justice with a Justice Facilities Review award in August 2016.

“From conception to the ribbon cutting, the U.S. Courthouse in Cedar Rapids represents more than a decade of work by our team at OPN. It is one of the largest projects — marked by years, budget, square footage, team members — in our firm’s portfolio,” said OPN Architects CEO and Principal Daniel Thies, who led OPN’s courthouse design team. “Our collaboration with William Rawn Associates and the General Services Administration resulted in a building that is not only a successful design but was completed on time and on budget.”

Thies and Associate James Meier-Gast attended the awards ceremony  with Samuel Lasky of William Rawn Associates in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 8.

The jury, led by Debra Lehman Smith, founding partner of Washington, DC–based studio LSM, also included Bill Calhoun, vice chairman and executive vice president of Clark Construction Group; Gordon Gill, founding partner of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture; Judy Nitsch, founding principal of Nitsch Engineering; Theo Prudon of New York–based design practice Prudon & Partners; and Vesela Sretenović, a senior curator of modern and contemporary art at The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.

Other projects honored include One World Trade Center in New York, ports of entry in Arizona and California, federal buildings in Minnesota and Indiana; as well as the restoration of Clara Barton’s apartment in Washington, D.C., and conservation of New Deal Easel Paintings.