Page D2.2 . 17 January 2007                     
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    Mayne Courthouse

    continued

    But this generally positive entry sequence ends disappointingly face-on to a long fixed-glass wall. Perhaps the stringent federal security requirements really can be blamed. The actual entry occurs off to one side through glass double doors. And the "grand stair" itself is rendered in concrete of barely average craftsmanship.

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    Sculptural Interior

    The main interior circulation core has slender, quasi-Aalto-esque columns ascending amid light and curving continuations of indoor and outdoor wall expressions. Unusually in Eugene, though not for a U.S. federal courthouse project, many of the materials and fixtures are first rate.

    The visual excitement of the interior light, the elegance of a small inner courtyard, and the nearly mannerist use of spatial devices rendered in gypsum board and sheet metal are reminiscent of some work by Steven Holl. Real drama in form and light is created largely in somewhat arbitrary maneuvers, in secondary materials: beautiful but not deeply integrated with the skin and bones of the building.

    Six courtrooms, pivotal elements in the functional program, are highly symmetrical designs, each with a heavy beam-like element overhead that cleaves the space on axis. While this configuration focuses courtroom theatrics on the judge, the jurors — ultimate legal decision-makers under the U.S. Constitution, when they are used — are seated in a side space.

    The simple, tasteful, light, and open jury assembly area, with a nice outdoor connection, is a welcome highlight in the programmatic distribution (though the elegant chairs selected will doubtless be changed out for something more comfortable). Indoor public art is prominently presented, but is strangely unintegrated, placed neither as constituent ornamentation of the architecture, nor as separate compositions framed by space.

    Automotive Exterior

    Outside, the building has a commanding presence that is nonetheless not quite convincing. The courtroom blocks, expressed in intimately detailed metal walls that are curved in plan and subtly stepped in section, are largely successful as form, emotionally cold and horizontally streamlined.

    Tapering inward as they rise, the bluntly curved walls pull back from their surrounding space. Yet that sculptural gesture is broken by a two-story bridging element connecting through the middle. And the sculpting of the blocks terminates at conventional flat walls at the outer sides.

    The small continuations of these swanky exterior walls that jut into space beyond the building's massing profile are not only timid, having been reduced in size during successive design iterations, but they also fail to convincingly continue the lines of the actual walls into space.

    As a result, the extensions appear as superficial markers laying claim to Art (as Mayne's lecture did explicitly), while not necessarily embodying it. As a reserved adaptation of Gehry-ism, the curving metal seems trendy without achieving much dramatic flair. The design fails to achieve the internally consistent language of idiosyncratic form that great modern sculpture can establish: original and initially alien yet ultimately wholistic and rewarding.

    The streamlined metal west facade, beside a divided highway viaduct, has obvious symbolism, yet the building site also lies along the city's beloved Willamette River greenway to the northeast, and astride the path of a planned pedestrian renaissance on the south. At ground level, the courthouse building is isolated from this site, elevated on a poorly detailed plinth.   >>>

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    West side of the Federal Courthouse in Eugene, Oregon by Thom Mayne, his firm Morphosis, and DLR Group.
    Photo: Kevin Matthews

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    Sleek tapering metal suggests automotive symbolism.
    Photo: Kevin Matthews

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    The main interior circulation core with quasi-Aalto-esque columns.
    Photo: Kevin Matthews

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    Light-filled, curving interiors.
    Photo: Kevin Matthews

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    Curving forms are beautiful but not deeply integrated with the skin and bones of building.
    Photo: Kevin Matthews

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    Stairs in soaring spaces.
    Photo: Kevin Matthews

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    Underplayed entry as a nod to security concerns.
    Photo: Kevin Matthews

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    Site plan with downtown Eugene to the left and the Willamette River above and to the right.
    Image: Morphosis Extra Large Image

     

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