The design of the courthouse anchors a new civic center for the city of San Diego. It reinterprets the offset core high rise typology to create a 700,000 square foot, “mixed-use” courthouse, consolidating all criminal, family, probate, and civil courts and facilities in downtown San Diego. Its iconic crown shades the primary façade overlooking a future park and creates a “luminous cloud” highlighting the courthouse on the skyline as a new beacon of light and justice.
The strategic siting of the courthouse sets in motion the transformation of a critical section of downtown San Diego. Its design extends the “civic” axis south towards the Federal court; it implements the first stage in the transformation of Union Street into a green corridor; and with the future demolition of the old courthouse, will open the possibility for a new public park across Union Street. By adopting an offset core configuration, the building’s podium features large uninterrupted, flexible floorplates for high volume spaces to support a program that includes arraignment courts, business offices and a jury assembly hall. In addition, it allows for an intuitive and direct entry sequence from the street, through the lobby, and into the elevator banks.
The lobby is San Diego’s new civic space. It is defined by a tall atrium with glass balconies and a grand cascading stair connecting the first four high- volume floor levels. At the third level, the project features an additional “elevated lobby” with a jury hall for 500 occupants, a cafeteria and a bridge connection to the Hall of Justice. The tower features 71 courtrooms including: criminal jury trial, family law, probate, civil, as well as high volume, double jury courtrooms. These are accessible via two elevator banks. In plan, the courtrooms are organized in pairs with a shared holding core in-between. The courtrooms have been designed for ultimate flexibility though the addition or removal of the jury box. A moment frames structural system allows the courtrooms and holding areas to be reconfigured as needed.
The design of the interior spaces emphasizes the importance of the court activities through the use of materials such as stone, tile, wood, and plaster and the generous introduction of light and views. The carefully considered materials and details in waiting areas, holding wells, and public corridors, reflect a humanistic approach to the design which seeks to address the needs and dignity of all users.
The exterior massing of the building is the result of its functional organization. The eastern side, features the public corridors leading into the courtrooms. These are expressed as a collective public space or “grand window” on the eastern elevation overlooking the city’s future public park. The scale of the curtain wall and the grand canopy reinforces the civic nature of this side of the building. In contrast, the western elevation, features the individual judges’ chambers, rendered as a cellular texture made up of modulated pilasters that control the western light and that direct views towards the bay. At the opposite end of the judges’ chambers, the jury deliberation rooms have been protected from views from the neighboring hotel with a solid façade on the east, and openings towards the north and south.
The exterior of the building is rendered in precast concrete panels with smooth and sandblasted finishes that accentuate the verticality of the building, endowing the project with a sense of civic weight and gravitas. A lower cornice above the southeastern corner of the building, anchors an elevated civic entry plaza. Its soffit is open, allowing views up toward a higher luminous canopy which defines the building on the skyline. This canopy is composed of large delta-like structures, hung from a series of trusses and rendered in white aluminum plates. The deltas are oriented to both cut the incident light on the eastern façade, and to reflect light onto itself, creating a luminous effect that celebrates the unique light of San Diego.