- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 24, 2001

Seven federal projects — ranging from a courthouse in Phoenix with an atrium that uses evaporation and convection to reduce its interior temperatures to a sculpture in East St. Louis, Ill., formed by 3,000 small heads — will be honored Thursday in the General Services Administration (GSA) Design Awards ceremony.

The projects, selected from 145, are a "true landmark in quality building," says Ed Finer, GSA chief architect. "The projects demonstrate what architecture and technology are able to do, and they represent the essence of American history."

The competition, re-established in 1990, recognizes the collaboration between private sector design professionals and GSA to deliver projects of "exceptional quality."

Four of the seven projects are courthouses that balance accessibility and openness with security, Mr. Finer says. In addition, "the buildings will help improve the esteem of the people who work there," he says.

Internationally acclaimed architect Richard Meier, based in New York, won two awards for the design of two courthouses. The Sandra Day O'Connor courthouse in Phoenix is considered by GSA to be "an exemplary combination of innovative engineering and design."

The six-story building fills a two-block site in central Phoenix between the governmental and business districts. It has a vast indoor plaza, which is surrounded by walls of glass. The atrium space contains a "special ceremonial courtroom."

"We wanted to find the architectural means that would help people rely better on the judiciary system," Mr. Meier says. "This is a very different architecture. The buildings are transparent, open and welcoming."

The architect, together with the Spector Group, won another award for the design of the U.S. Courthouse and Federal Building in Central Islip, N.Y. The courthouse, "light and transparent," according to GSA's description, takes advantage of the panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean.

Merhdad Yasdani and Cannon Dworsky of Los Angeles received an Architecture Award for the eight-story, L-shaped courthouse they designed in downtown Las Vegas. The Lloyd D. George Courthouse, made of limestone, marble, granite and aluminum, features an expansive plaza and a jury assemble space with a tall, sloping roof and a clerestory that fills the room with light. A secure courtyard allows jurors to step outside for fresh air.

"It was difficult to convey the message of timeliness in a place like Las Vegas," says Mr. Yasdani, who has been working in this project for the last six years.

The Charles Evans Whittaker U.S. Courthouse, a landmark overlooking the Missouri river in Kansas City, Mo., received the Honor Award in Construction Excellence.

"We did an excellent teamwork with government personnel and designers in a very large and high-quality project," says Steve Hamline of J.E. Dunn Construction of Kansas City, Mo. With this project, which utilized 34 subcontractors, the construction company used the metric system for the first time.

The U.S. Port of Entry in Blaine, Wash., done by Intermountain Construction of Idaho Falls, Idaho, also received the Construction Excellence Honor Award.

The exhibiting facilities needed to be replaced, and the project included the demolition of two buildings totaling 36,000 square feet and the construction of three buildings and auxiliary structures with a total of more than 100,000 square feet. The replacement of the old facilities had to be phased to allow uninterrupted operation 24 hours a day during a 27-month construction period

Artists Ralph Helmick and Stuart Schechter of Newton, Mass., won the Honor Art Award for "Jurisprudents," an sculpture for the Melvin Price U.S. Courthouse in East St. Louis, Ill. The work, installed in the new courthouse in East St. Louis, honors the importance of the jury in the American judicial system.

Using traditional methods, the artists sculpted 12 life-sized portraits of ordinary Americans — six men and six women — representing the 12 members of a jury. The heads were then laser-scanned, rapid-prototyped at small scale and finished with a hand-rubbed patina and affixed to hundreds of suspended cables. The more than 3.000 small structures coalesce into two monumental heads facing each other across a skylit courthouse atrium.

"We thought, in the first place, about the people who are going to see the sculpture on an everyday basis," Mr. Helmick says. The artists got the idea three years ago, after the O.J. Simpson trial, when there was "a lot of cynicism about the judicial system."

The Engineering, Technology and Energy Honor Award was for the U.S. Geological Survey Chiller Replacement project in Reston, by the local JVP Engineers, for a project that will result in substantial cost savings, according to the GSA.

The GSA's jury is formed by a panel of 11 architects, artists and engineers and is chaired by architect Charles Gwathmey.

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