The U.S. Courthouse at Alpine, Texas is a new $13M, 38,600 GSF 2-story U.S. District Courthouse facility located on a five acre site in West Texas. This project was awarded to PageSoutherlandPage through a GSA Design Excellence competition process and synthesizes unique security, sustainability and circulation requirements dictated by the multiple government agencies that inhabit the facility – all while projecting an image of solidity and permanence appropriate for this landmark building in West Texas. The building is a unique response to both the unique characteristics of the region and site, including the extraordinary quality of the local landscape, the strong and sometimes harsh climate of West Texas and the traditions of civic building in the area and to the very specific mission of the occupants of the Courthouse.
A Strong Civic Presence
There are few regions in the United States that have such a strong tradition of buildings used by the federal government defining the dominant architectural heritage of the place as the Trans-Pecos region. Landmarks like Fort Davis, Fort Stockton, El Fortin del Cibolo and El Fortin de la Cienega in the immediate area are real landmarks of Texas architecture and have served since the early 1850s as emblems of the strength and commitment of the U.S. government here. This new Courthouse relates to and continues that tradition.
The same simple, economical collection of elemental geometrical forms found in all of these powerful buildings are at work in this new Courthouse - from the heavy, durable stonework of Fort Stockton and the officers' quarters at Fort Davis, to the dominant shading and internal space-making at Cibolo and Fort Davis, to the solid walls punctuated by a landmark tower motif of La Cienega and Cibolo, and finally to the great rotunda form, which comes from many sources in the architectural heritage of the region and of public buildings elsewhere. The Anasazi Indians used the round kiva form for their public meeting spaces long before Europeans came to the desert southwest. El Fortin del Cibolo employs a similar shape centuries later to anchor two corners of the structure. Many civic buildings in Texas from county courthouses to the State Capitol use it as an emblem of unity and dignity. It is a timeless and beautiful architectural form very appropriate to this region and the mission of this building.
Compatibility with the site and the surrounding area in this instance takes full account of the powerful Trans-Pecos landscape that dominates the experience of this locale. The building maintains an appropriate frontal relationship to the highway and to the orthogonal grid of Alpine. It sits comfortably and compatibly between the similarly oriented structures to either side, yet has an appropriately more powerful presence than its neighbors – it is a real landmark for the community at this edge of town.
It has the same quality of rising proud and tall from the flat plain as the hills and mountain ranges around the area.
The building's materials also reflect a strong compatibility with the larger landscape environment. A long, low wall in front incorporating a large planter, flagpoles and a highway-scaled sign provides a base for the building made of a dry-stacked, rusticated version of the local West Texas stone. The exterior of the building is made of the same warm russet-colored stone.
Landscaping has been carefully designed and selected from the local vegetation with a wide variety of cactus and succulents mixed with some trees in the front of the building complemented by a more intimate and softer selection of landscape in the courtyard. The overall result is a building that seems like it has always been here, working in close harmony with the geology, topography and ecology of its environment.
Response to Climate
Sun shading devices are used above most of the vulnerable windows to the east, south, and west to offer protection to those windows, and generous ramadas, traditional sun shelters in this region, are also employed where effective.
The courtyard, which also has a long history as a climatic control device in this region, is employed effectively to create a shady microclimate adjacent to much of the building's perimeter. Heating and cooling systems only have to moderate the more temperate courtyard conditions for a large portion of the building's skin. Finally, the high-mass exterior skin material is used effectively to dampen the comparatively high diurnal temperature swing characteristic of this region.
All of the primary departments housed in the Courthouse have a distinct "front door" on an open covered walkway, which allows people to come and go without traveling through another unit. The walkway surrounds a landscaped courtyard, which contributes an intimate human scale as well as a sense of intimacy, graciousness and beauty available to all units and their visitors. Departmental circulation within the various units is restricted and secure. Last, but not least, the court functions are appropriately elevated to the second floor. A memorable double-height rotunda connects the two floors and provides a dignified, civic feeling for the courts.
Photography © Chris Cooper Photography