The Robert S. Vance Federal Building & U.S. Courthouse project renovated a 1920’s government building to meet societal demands and user aspirations.
Incremental changes to the building over time had resulted in an inefficient, compartmentalized, and functionally obsolete building plan. The overarching goal for the project was to remove the layers of past interventions which cluttered the organization and obscured the historic fabric. The design solution provides a new rational plan to serve the Courts' public functions in a graceful and efficient manner while maintaining security for both employees and the citizens they serve.
"We are thankful for the renovations that repair and preserve this building for the public we serve"
Scott Ford, Clerk of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court of Northern District Alambama
History and Change
Occupying one half of a block in the Birmingham central business district, the building was designed by James Alphoso Wetmore, Acting Supervising Architect of the Treasury from 1915 to 1933, as a US Post Office and Courthouse. The classical revival building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Although the design for the building was completed by 1916, construction was delayed by World War I and ultimately was not completed until 1921. In 1926, the building’s roof was removed and the present day third and fourth floors were added.
Uncovering Layers of History
The unifying design concept was that the building should be reflective of its time, while representing the continuum of its past history and use. The central portion of the building that had once served as the postal area was completely reorganized to house three courtrooms and chambers. The most significant design feature of the renovation is the recreation of light monitors, originally over the postal sorting area, to provide a source of natural light for the new courtrooms and chambers. The historic lobby was restored and features large walnut windows and bronze grilles that echo the teller windows and mailboxes of the buildings original post office. The juxtaposition of old and new provides the community a reflection of the enduring nature of our government through the evolving use of these contemporary spaces.
The most significant design feature of the renovation is the recreation of light monitors, originally over the postal sorting area, to provide a source of natural light for the new courtrooms and chambers.
© Sherwood Cox
As an ARRA-funded project, Vance was required to meet GSA’s High Performance Green Building Standards; sustainability and energy conservation were major project objectives.
Integrated Design Achieves Sustainable Solutions
The project was largely driven by the needs for a full building systems upgrade. A new efficient HVAC system was introduced and systems were seamlessly integrated into the historic fabric. The approach incorporates solutions that serve multiple functions while providing cost effective strategies to the technical and design challenges. For example, the structure to support the cooling tower was carefully integrated with the structure for the new fire stairs. A 35,000 gallon cistern is integrated into the structural foundation of the sally port. The stormwater collected by the cistern is recycled for both toilet flushing and as make-up water for the cooling tower.