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2016 MCHAP

United States Courthouse, Salt Lake City

Thomas Phifer and Partners

Salt Lake City, UT, USA

August 2014


Thomas Phifer and Partners


Naylor Wentworth Lund Architects (Executive Architect) Reaveley Engineers & Associates (Structural Engineering) Van Boerum & Frank Associates (Mechanical Engineer) McNeil Engineering (Civil Engineer) E. A. Lyman Landscape Architects (Landscape Architect)


General Services Administration


Scott Frances


The outward design of the new United States Courthouse emanates from a search for a form that is strong, iconic, transparent, and metaphorically egalitarian as a symbol of the American judiciary system. The resulting cubic mass of the new courthouse, like the monumental buttes of southern Utah, is just such a recognizable and primary form, projecting grounded dignity and immovable order while presenting an equal face to all sides. At the same time, this form stands respectfully aside the existing Frank E. Moss Courthouse with its own iconic presence and authority. The building’s transparent and encompassing glass and aluminum facade exposes the life and operations of the courthouse to the city while providing expansive views of the magnificent Wasatch Range. A quilt-work layer of exterior, aluminum sun screens tempers this transparency with a variable, protective veil that changes with the solar orientation and the interior use. Vertical fluting of these elements refers subtly to the classical orders associated with the Moss Courthouse and the tradition of the broader federal judiciary. The building’s interior planning celebrates daylight as an intrinsic quality of both public and individual space. In the building core, a sky-lit atrium brings natural daylight to the centrally located, public lobbies. Courtrooms are located at the building’s four corners, allowing filtered daylight to permeate the rooms, lending a warm character that illuminates the proceedings within. Though modern in its materials and construction, the building design is classical in its simple and holistic approach.


Situated on a gentle incline between the majestic Wasatch Mountains and the tranquil Great Salt Lake, Salt Lake City typifies a uniquely western urbanity that is firmly wedded to its monumental landscape. At the south west corner of this downtown core, the new United States Courthouse houses the District and Magistrate Courts of the District of Utah. The Courts previously resided in the adjacent, early 20th century Frank E. Moss Courthouse, designed in the Beaux Arts neoclassical style. Together, the two buildings establish a distinct federal precinct as an anchor resident of downtown Salt Lake City. Thomas Phifer and Partners situated the new courthouse in a garden setting uniting the two federal structures on a level terrace. By federal security standards, the structure must be set back from the street by 50 feet on all sides, creating a natural zone for public space. With its lawn, trees, and generous stairs from the sidewalk, the public-access terrace provides a welcome amenity for the downtown area while softening the mass of the new building with surrounding greenery. In a 10-story structure of 400,000 gross square feet, the new courthouse contains district and magistrate courtrooms, clerk offices, and marshal services, along with other federal agencies. The new courthouse embodies the ideals and aspirations of the American judiciary system - clarity of order, transparency of process, fairness of disposition and timeless relevance - in a building that invites civic participation and celebrates the extraordinary qualities of nature that characterize this location.


The United States Courthouse, Salt Lake City's LEED Gold rating exceeds the prospectus mandate of LEED Silver. The carefully tuned building envelope, oriented to the solar coordinates, employs high-performance glass with an exterior sun screening system to admit energy-saving natural daylight while reducing peak solar loads. In addition to a low-E coating, the insulating glass employs visible light reducing ceramic frit dot screens of varying density. Similar to the strategy of variable ceramic frit, the density of louvers varies for different occupancies behind the glass. Workplaces are screened with less density than transient areas. This codification of interior activity is apparent to the passer-by in the fields of subtly different louver densities. Throughout the building, outward views are maintained with optimized solar protection. The facade is punctuated by deep-framed, portal windows marking special locations within the building and lined with reflective stainless steel to reflect the magnificent surroundings to the occupants within. The softly reflective, anodized aluminum finish along with the crystalline transparency of glass accentuates the distinctive quality of natural light in this intermountain setting as the sun passes over the luminescent Wasatch and across the shimmering Great Salt Lake.

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