James M. Carter & Judith N. Keep United States Courthouse

A technologically advanced, high-security building engages its urban context to promote San Diego’s enlightened goals for a vibrant and accessible downtown.

Meier Partners’ master plan for the United States Courthouse in San Diego integrates an elegant new tower with important existing federal buildings, engaging new landscape elements to create inviting pedestrian paths and to celebrate public art. The courthouse’s light color and refined material palette is inspired by the coastal city’s Mediterranean characteristics, reinforcing the civic character of the entire complex.

The slender sixteen-story tower rises above an open base that is glazed in a combination of transparent and translucent glass. Clad in wafer-like layers of terracotta and glass, the tower itself is composed in direct response to the building’s complex program, urban context, and orientation on the site. In juxtaposition to the rectilinear tower, the building’s curved, light-filled lobby is positioned slightly set back from the tower footprint to meet security goals and to be visible from all approaches to the site, serving to efficiently receive and redirect staff and visitors to all interior destinations. The jury assembly space and outdoor terrace, located adjacent to the lobby, provide views to the plaza and gardens, while both the naturally ventilated lobby and jury assembly room are designed to take full advantage of the idyllic San Diego climate.

The tower’s glazed east elevation, designed for public circulation, offers exceptional exterior views to the plaza, city, and expansive South Bay. The two-courts-per-floor design eliminates traditional long corridors and gives human scale to the procession from entry to courtroom. This activity is visible from the public plaza and, through the building facade, expresses a dynamic and accessible judicial process.