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GSA's Byron White Courthouse Wins Presidential Design Award

GSA #9444

October 30, 1997
Contact: Hap Connors
(202) 501-1231

WASHINGTON, DC -- As a result of the US General Services Administration (GSA) and the imaginative intervention of its designers, the Byron White United States Courthouse epitomizes what a courthouse should and can be in America, according to the jury that selected the historic structure as a winner of the quadrennial Presidential Award for Design Excellence.

The Presidential Design Awards, established in 1983 by President Ronald Reagan, are administered by the National Endowment for the Arts and are presented every four years. The awards encourage and recognize the design successes of federal agencies and honor individuals who have made outstanding contributions to federal design. This year's awards were presented by Mrs. Albert Gore in a ceremony today in the Indian Treaty Room in the Old Executive Office Building.

The preservation of the Byron White Courthouse, located in downtown Denver, demonstrates a strategy which combines respect for the past with the thoughtful integration of new spaces for new uses. The 80-year-old courthouse was restored and now houses officials of the U.S. Court of Appeals, Tenth District, and the U.S. District Court. On August 10, 1994, the building was rededicated as the Byron White United States Courthouse.

In receiving today's award, GSA Administrator David J. Barram said, "This courthouse illustrates our belief that America's federal buildings are public buildings, and we strive to make them part of the fabric of our communities while preserving our Nation's heritage."

The GSA worked with Michael Barber Architecture of Denver to restore the exterior and important public interior spaces in the lobby and second floor gallery. The remaining space was converted to federal courtrooms. Furthermore, all building systems were brought up to U.S. Courts Guidelines and Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards.

Built from 1910 to 1916 as the Federal Courthouse/Post Office, the 244,000 square-foot structure was once known as the "Mile High City's grandest Neoclassical Structure". Its Renaissance Revival interior was especially noteworthy for its abundant natural light, most evident in its massive skylights and interior courtyard.

By the late 1980s, however, the rich design, grandeur and natural light had been greatly diminished by layers of insensitive remodeling. So much of the original architecture had been destroyed or compromised that, when the need for new court facilities arose, serious consideration was given to building a new courthouse. Instead, the Judges' Restoration Committee urged GSA to acquire the derelict building in 1988 with the goal of restoring it to serve the needs of a 21st century judiciary.


In the end, the team restored the building's natural light and recreate the original spirit of the building. The exterior was completely cleaned, with minimal repairs to the marble to preserve as much of the original work as possible. The former post office lobby, now called the Grand Hall, was restored. The main corridor of the second floor, which had been reduced to a fluorescent five-foot corridor in the 1960s, was restored to its original proportions, lit once again by the natural light of the interior courtyard and by recreations of the original cast bronze sconces.

All five courtrooms are new, as is the Ceremonial En Banc Courtroom centered in what was once the main post office work area. Although the massive sky lights are not visible, the light from them suffuses the translucent panels.

At a cost of $115 per square foot, the building has the same estimated useful life as new courthouses currently benchmarked from $145 to $170 per square foot, depending on height, scope, location and other construction variables. Currently valued at $200 million, the Byron White Courthouse is proof that good design is good business, increasing the economic value of federal assets while enriching communities and American heritage.

GSA and the National Endowment for the Arts recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding to leverage their expertise and resources to strengthen and jointly administer the Federal Design Improvement Program, including the Presidential Design Awards.