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William C. Altreuter
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Friday, April 22, 2011

I drive by the new federal courthouse twice a day, and every time I do I wonder what went wrong. Its design was supposed to feature a mirrored glass curtain wall, which would have nicely complemented Niagara Square, but what we have instead is green tinted glass which is completely transparent. What that means is that as you approach the building from the north you see that there is a lot of blank wall, with an irregular pattern of windows. The aesthetic purpose of the glass curtain wall is completely lost.

It is actually worse on the front side: from the street you can see right into what I assume is going to be some sort of large common area on each floor. There is some reflection of Niagara Square here, which was the effect that we were told we'd be getting, but not much, and nothing like what was described. Worse, once the building is in use this is going to look cluttered.

There has been some media coverage concerning construction problems, but for the most part this has been limited to discussion about delay, and stories about mold. The delay was largely attributable, as I understand it, to materials shortages: federal courthouses have to be constructed from special double-reenforced steel beams so that white Christians (or other people I guess) can't blow them up. Fair enough, but doesn't a completely transparent front like this suggest potential security problems?

It's a pity. I am sure that the courtrooms and other appointments will be great-- federal court judges have tastes like Medicis, and they should. Courthouses and courtrooms should be impressive, to reflect the important work that goes on in them. Unfortunately the atmosphere of security that now pervades nearly every aspect of interaction with the federal government will prevent most people from seeing the inside of the building-- regular people will go by and what they will see will be this failed exterior. I wish we knew what happened here.


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