Is there a design language that is unique to civic architecture? Critic Robert Campbell posed this question to the architects, judges, and others attending “Function, Form, and Meaning: Design Excellence in Federal Courthouses” last Friday. Hosted by the General Services Administration (GSA), this day-long forum in Washington, D.C., was billed as “a review and national conversation on federal courthouse design.” Campbell’s opening lecture juxtaposed Modern designs with classical models and challenged attendees and speakers to debate whether or not one of these modes is more appropriate for civic buildings.
Taking up Campbell’s challenge, several audience members asked if Modernism has replaced the traditional historical styles as GSA’s de facto style. They cited several high-profile recently completed federal courthouses including projects by Richard Meier, in Phoenix and Central Islip, New York, and one by Morphosis in Eugene, Oregon.