Diverse Design Has It All

Article excerpt

Byline: BILL BISHOP The Register-Guard

The final design for Eugene's new $70 million federal courthouse celebrates the state's rivers and mountains with avant-garde flourish while heralding the classic town-square look with modified traditional elements of broad stairs and massive columns.

Three pavilions that contain courtrooms and form the top section of the courthouse are arranged to evoke one of Oregon's trademark geographic images: the Three Sisters.

The design makes its long-awaited public debut today with two special events and a round of introductions by U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan, who has spearheaded the project since its inception a dozen years ago.

The shape of the courthouse combines Hogan's love for tradition with the futuristic approach of the main designer, Thom Mayne of Morphosis Architects of Santa Monica, Calif. Their conversations led to more than three dozen small plaster castings of building concepts that clutter Hogan's office.

The final result gives form to their ideas about the long-term role of courts in society, the everyday function of courts and the building's setting in the landscape along the Willamette River on the edge of downtown, Hogan said.

"The design is modern in execution, yet retains classic architectural elements that reflect the stature, dignity and vigor of one of our nation's most trusted institutions, the federal courts," Hogan said Wednesday. "I also think it is a very inviting design that welcomes visitors. It is secure without being fortress-like."

The new building provides more security than the current courthouse at Seventh Avenue and Pearl Street, but it's one of two new U.S. courthouses in the nation that relies on design rather than traffic bollards and more personnel to meet increased safety needs, Hogan said.

The main entrance along East Eighth Avenue signals that the structure is a courthouse and not just another office building with its classic broad staircase leading to massive columns, he said.

Before visitors reach the security station in the building's atrium, they will walk past a 60-foot-long waterfall that elicits the feeling of Oregon's rivers, Hogan said.

The office layout is designed for function, with two levels arranged in an efficient rectangular structure for the clerks, marshals, prosecutors, probation officers and other court workers.

Natural light will flood the area from the atrium, where the public will go to reach the most-often used federal offices - the clerks and bankruptcy offices, for instance.

The office section provides a platform for three separate, irregularly shaped pavilions that form the upper level of the building. Each pavilion will hold two courtrooms and two judicial chambers, Hogan said. All will have windows with vistas over the city and nearby river.

The pavilions, which may be clad in copper or zinc to accommodate their curving shape, will be set in the same relative positions as the peaks of the Three Sisters. From the nearby Ferry Street Bridge viaduct, motorists will see the pavilions as three individual structures separated by curving canyons.

The overall effect is an unimposing low-rise building that doesn't feel out of scale with the rest of the city's downtown buildings, even though it's much larger than most, Hogan said.

The size of the site also will help make the courthouse a welcoming place for the public, Hogan said. A small park is planned for a vacant part of the site on the north side of the building.

A portion of the 200-foot-long stairway entrance will have steps that are double-height, intended for seating.

Hogan said the building's atrium can be a "grand public space" for activities such as art shows. The federal General Services Administration is devoting 1.5 percent of the building budget, about $1 million, to art, he said. …