GSA Honors Its “Best of the Best”

The U.S. General Services Administration honored the 16 winners of the 2004 GSA Design Awards March 24 at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C. Selected from 143 entries, this year’s recipients “are models that creatively meet everyday functional needs and address the challenges of providing a quality federal work environment at the best value to the taxpayers,” says GSA Administrator Stephen A. Perry.

A jury of private-sector professionals reviewed submissions in 20 categories that include architecture, preservation, engineering, art, workplace environment, urban design, sustainability, and construction. The jury was composed of Chair Mack Scogin, AIA; Cindy Allen; Thomas Geismar; Molly Donovan; Robert Rogers, AIA; Thomas “Gunny” Harboe, AIA; Maurice Cox; and Michael Maybaum. On behalf of the jury, Scogin stated, “The jury was surprised and impressed with the breadth of GSA’s work. There was tremendous diversity, not just high-profile urban courthouses and office buildings but border stations, daycare centers, field offices, lobbies, signage, computer-based simulations, and project information systems. The quality was very high, not simply when evaluated on a government or national standard but when judged on an international scale.”

Honor Awards

On the Boards
Federal Building, San Francisco, by Morphosis
“This is an unabashedly contemporary architecture that with great positive enthusiasm expresses its clients’ intentions to create uncompromising, intelligent, creative, cutting-edge architecture without abandoning its responsibilities to satisfy the demanding and often debilitating requirements surrounding issues of function, budget, security, tectonics, context, and sustainability,” praised the jury. A long, slender, translucent tower, 60-feet-wide and 234-feet-high, sheathed with glass and an undulating perforated metal screen, will announce boldly the federal government’s commitment to green architecture and a high-quality work environment. The building is user-centric, blending energy efficiency and sustainability with strategies to improve the well-being and productivity of workers.

Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Federal Building, Washington, D.C., by Heery/Tishman, a joint venture, and Burt Hill Kosar Rittleman, with conservator Page Conservation Inc. and construction by Gilbane Building Company
After more than a half century of use and numerous renovations and modernizations, the beauty and integrity of this 1930s Classical Revival building had been severely compromised. The goal was to retain as much of the historic fabric as possible while bringing the building up to current codes. Ceilings were restored to the original decorative details and colors. Lighting was brought back to its original design. Sixty-eight Works Progress Administration (WPA) murals and scores of sculptures were restored to their original appearance. Exterior work included restoring the central courtyard with an aluminum water fountain flanked by limestone stairs and ramps. “This project exemplifies the kind of outstanding team effort that a major restoration project of this complexity and scale requires to be successful,” said the jury.

Construction Excellence
United States Courthouse, Seattle, construction by J.A. Jones/Absher Construction Company, a joint venture
This project was completed on time and on budget, despite significant challenges, including record inclement weather, a labor strike, the departure of a major joint-venture partner, and contaminated soils. GSA’s contracting officer and project manager co-managed the project with the architecture firm’s design project manager. This unusual approach proved highly successful, building a close-knit and effective team of project participants. Several innovative structural concepts were undertaken that led to significant cost savings and improved building safety. Primary among these was a hybrid shear-wall core to provide seismic safety. “The innovation brought by all members of the team was impressive,” lauded the jury. “Teamwork was apparent at all levels, including the courts, and everyone on the project can be rightfully proud of the high quality of construction.”


United States Courthouse, Hammond, Ind., by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners Architects LLP and Browning Day Mullins Dierdorf Architects
The restrained design incorporates twin monolithic limestone-clad wings joined by a three-story, glass-walled atrium with a vaulted ceiling. To the north and south, limestone walls define public galleries and announce the presence of eight courtrooms. To articulate the form and bring natural light to upper-level interior spaces, wedge shapes have been cut out of the building’s corners. “This courthouse captures in space, light, and material form all of the honor and dignity that we hope for in our judicial system,” praised the jury. “The beautifully proportioned series of rooms conveys a respect for the public and uplifts the human spirit.”

Architecture/Interior Design
United States Courthouse, Seattle, by NBBJ
Encompassing a full block on the edge of Seattle’s downtown core, the building gracefully interprets the modern urban courthouse in a hierarchical tri-partite composition. The courtrooms are located in a 23-story tower that is flanked along the back by a 17-story volume containing judges’ chambers. A low 7-story office bar along one side of the tower thrusts forward to embrace a plaza. The jury was “impressed with the complete resolution of the project in urban planning, architecture, and interior design. The project is also noteworthy for an effective and graceful security perimeter developed integrally with the site and building.”

ATF National Laboratory Center, Beltsville, Md., by Kallman McKinnell & Wood Architects, Inc., with construction by the Whiting–Turner Contracting Company
The design of this facility required a rigorous multidisciplinary collaboration to create the world’s first forensic fire testing and research laboratory. Located at the rear of the building, this laboratory comprises 75,000 square feet and includes three fire-testing labs, where fires up to 25 megawatts can be conducted safely. “This project takes a tough, industrial program and makes elegant and resolved architecture,” said the jury. “This terrific building shows that the range of the Design Excellence Program can include every building typology.”

On the Boards
United States Courthouse, Buffalo, by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates PC
Located on historic Niagara Square across the street from the 1931 Art Deco city hall and opposite the 1936 Art Deco Michael J. Dillon U.S. Courthouse, this facility’s distinctive elliptical form achieves maximum efficiency by reducing the amount of exterior wall surface while enclosing the gross area required by the program and responding to the complex site conditions. The ellipse was sliced off on one side to form a public face that houses circulation galleries leading to the courtrooms. This face was then gently curved by a radius emanating from the center of Niagara Square to create a dialogue with the square. The jury enthused, “It is a design that brings order to an otherwise chaotic urban realm and does so with a surprisingly quiet and dignified presence.”

United States Courthouse, El Paso, by Antoine Predock Architect PC
“The phenomenal condition of sky and horizon have been skillfully folded into a re-orchestration of one of the most traditionally defining characteristics of the courthouse spatial experience, the professional move from the world of a physical reality to the world of an ideological abstraction,” the jury praised. Responding to the site by framing views, solar angles, materiality, and the containment of civic space, the design of the El Paso courthouse alludes to the timeless nature and the “deep time” of the West Texas landscape.

United States Port of Entry, Del Rio, Tex., by Charles Rose Architects Inc.
The Del Rio Port of Entry will create a powerful architectural symbol on the landscape while effectively addressing the program requirements. The canopy is both symbolic and functional, enveloping and open. It is embracing and welcoming, capturing in its sweeping form the breadth of the democratic nation the visitor is about to enter. The jury noted that this project “has a lightness to it that confidently expresses the positive aspects of this encounter. The canopies, with a certain delicacy of authority, create a zone of transition commensurate with the scale of the surrounding landscape. They provide welcome protection from the elements and create a friendly, embracing image.”

United States Courthouse and Federal Building, Phoenix, by Thomas Phifer and Partners and Gould Evans Associates
In renovating this seven-story, 1960s glass-and-aluminum curtainwall building into a facility for use by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court and other federal agencies, the architects sought to reinforce on the interior the clarity and integrity of the exterior architecture. The dignity of the judiciary was to be visually embodied in an architecture of inclusiveness, transparency, and orderliness. The jury praised the project’s “exacting natural lines, transparent luminosity, and organic grammar as architect Thomas Phifer’s personal modus operandi all manifest in the courtrooms and public corridors in this exemplary modernization of Edward L. Varney’s 1960 building.”

United States Courthouse, Erie, Pa., by KSBA/DPK&A, joint venture
The courthouse is composed of four buildings: the 1899 Beaux-Arts Erie Public Library; 1937 Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse; 1946 Art Moderne Isaac Baker and Son building; and a contemporary courthouse annex and lobby structure that connects the buildings into a cohesive ensemble. Preserving the historic buildings and sensitively weaving them with a contemporary structure maintained and expanded the streetscape’s visual variety and layering. Masonry patterns, gentle reveals, and the rhythm of fenestration all engage the pedestrian, creating expressions of openness even as the complex satisfies modern security needs. It is urban design at its best where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The jury appreciated that “important historic structures that span several periods and styles were skillfully tied together with a modern link.”

“River of Light,” United States Courthouse, Wheeling, W. Va., by artist Mikyoung Kim
A focal point in the new atrium in this courthouse is this pulsing art installation symbolizing the historical importance of glass-making and river life to Wheeling. Resting on the staircase plinth, “River of Light” is an abstract image of a river distilled to its essence. Artist Mikyoung Kim united historical reference with modern materials to depict the rhythm and shimmer of flowing water and introduce an atmosphere of tranquility redolent of a contemplative garden. “The piece creates a beautiful and meaningful relationship between its own radiant form, the architecture, and the location,” said the jury. “The symbiosis it achieves with its setting is clear and concise, as well as unusually compelling.”

First Impressions
Richard Bolling Federal Building, Kansas City, Mo., by BNIM Architects
This 1960s bunker-style federal building was transformed into an inviting, secure facility. Originally, the building had two obscure entrances located inside the building envelope, connected by a dark through-corridor with a low luminous ceiling. Today, two airy, glass entrance pavilions project from the building in an open, welcoming gesture. Over the primary entrance pavilion, the aluminum tube cladding was reconstructed in a wave form, enlivening the monolith façade and reinforcing the entrance location. “The design beautifully orchestrates a subtle and elegant sequence into the building,” the jury praised. “The intervention strikes an impressive balance between the building’s Modernist roots and city’s urban tradition of engaging the street and public.”

Graphic Design
World War II Memorial Book, Washington, D.C., by Cox & Associates
This 120-page book chronicles the 10-year design and construction process of the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., showcasing the finished memorial and honoring the millions of Americans who served in the war effort. A combination of classic Baskerville type juxtaposed with a sans-serif meta-font reflects the duality of the memorial’s design. Silver metallic ink helps set off the abundance of bronze artwork and complements the memorial’s use of granite. By including elements of the design and construction process, the project’s history, diagrams and tests, and handsome photographs of the finished memorial, the publication is a fitting keepsake and record of the memorial. The jury called the book, “reflective of and sensitive to the memorial, yet holds its own as a distinctive object. The overall piece is elegant, simple, informative, and appropriate for its purpose.”

Construction Excellence
U.S. and Canada Shared Border Station, Sweet Grass, Mont./Coutts, Alberta, Canada, construction by Abide International Inc.
This project was a unique construction challenge that required building a shared border station with a main port building straddling the border between the U.S. and Canada. One of the heaviest truck border crossings in the western U.S., the station had to be fully operational and the security of the border strictly maintained throughout construction. A design/build project, the construction manager had the monumental task of coordinating work between the two countries with 80 points of contact with decision-making authority and 400 directly involved participants. “Completing a project on the border of two countries while maintaining the integrity of that border is a tremendous feat. Doing so with a design-builder in one country, at least five different clients, and materials and labor from both countries, while maintaining an aggressive schedule and ending without any claims is even more remarkable. It is an extraordinary project,” proclaimed the jury.

World War II Memorial, Washington, D.C., construction by Tomkins/Grunley-Walsh Joint Venture
“Rarely does a project inspire everyone associated with it to rise to a higher level than they thought possible. The World War II Memorial was one of these projects,” the jury enthused. Located prominently on the central east-west axis of the Mall, the memorial required the highest-quality materials, craftsmanship, and construction to ensure a result worthy of the site and the event it commemorates. Overall, the memorial contains more than 17,000 individual pieces of granite weighing 8,000 tons, 136 jets of water in three separate fountains, two waterfalls, a state-of-the-art pump and control vault 32 feet below ground, and 16,000 cubic feet of concrete. The water features and site utilities system use more than 5.5 miles of stainless steel and PVC piping.

Copyright 2005 The American Institute of Architects. All rights reserved. Home Page


The winners of the 2004 GSA Design Awards are showcased in GSA Design Awards 2004, soon to be available at www.gsa.gov.

Photos courtesy of GSA.

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