Governor George Deukmejian Courthouse, Long Beach, California
The old, crumbling, brutalist-era courthouse where I did a lot of jury duty time was finally, mercifully shuttered, its broken escalators never to confound us again, and the new courthouse went up a couple blocks from the old one, officially opening last September 2013. It’s a massive building, meant to absorb the judicial business of many other tributary courthouses in the Los Angeles Superior Court system that have been closed due to budgetary cutbacks. (All these closures have reminded many again of the truism that “justice delayed is justice denied.”)
The only public entrance, with its jutting promontory, the ipe-lined overhang, facing east on Magnolia, photo via here
For months I admired the new courthouse from a distance, as I whizzed by in the car to and from the nearby freeway onramp. Compared to the dreary old courthouse, this gleaming glass facade seemed to have more in common with an opera house. Driving on the south side of the new courthouse on Broadway a few weeks ago, I noticed the parkway in bloom with hesperaloe and made a mental note to walk the perimeter that weekend. When I finally did a few laps around the courthouse late in the day on a Saturday, I was so impressed with the landscape architecture that I spent the next week researching the LA responsible, a straightforward-enough question that proved surprisingly frustrating to find an answer to. It turns out the answer was buried in the question. I couldn’t find a name for the landscape architect because the multidisciplinary engineering firm that designed the courthouse, AECOM, is headed by a landscape architect and urban planner, Joseph E. Brown, FASLA. That the building seemed to me so thoroughly integrated with the landscape architecture was because it was conceived that way, literally from the ground up. AECOM’s chief executive, Mr. Brown described his vision for AECOM in a 2009 interview published by ASLA’s The Dirt, Uniting the Built and Natural Environments; “Peering into the Future: An Interview with Joseph E. Brown, FASLA.”*
“As a landscape architect and urban designer, I’ll be in charge of the entire set of capabilities including architecture, building engineering, design, planning, economics, and program management. I’ll be leveling the playing field among disciplines as opposed to the current cafeteria-style model of practice, which is inflexible and hierarchical. In our future, engineering and architecture will be calibrated with science, counterbalanced with the fields of ecology and landscape.”
As the comments to the interview show, not everyone agrees with Mr. Brown’s opinion that it will take mega, multidisciplinary firms like his to handle the complex design challenges of 21st century projects. It’s an intriguing proposition guaranteed to piss off principals of boutique firms. And there will be built-in suspicion for any corporate entity that proclaims their enormous size will be both to their benefit and ours (society’s). All matters for future reading and investigation. All I know is what I’ve linked here. And that the courthouse was delivered ahead of schedule.