Fort Pierce originally grew around Henry Flagler's Florida East Coast (FEC) Railroad tracks a block east of the courthouse site. The courthouse sits along US Highway 1, now the main north south artery through the city, but the central business district has not fully grown up along the highway where existing development remains low scale.
Consequently the courthouse rises abruptly from the blocks east and south of the site, waiting for a more mature setting.
Given the pattern of development around the courthouse, people will likely approach the courthouse from the corner of Orange Avenue and highway one. The main floor of the courthouse sits a full level above the street because of a high water table and basement level parking. This is all hidden from highway 1 by a long ramp that ascends from the corner. Every effort was made to integrate the ramp and two sets of grand stairs into the overall massing of the courthouse, which sets back as it rises and culminates in the elevator tower.
Section perspective looking south showing the lobby and courtroom
Fort Pierce, Florida
The courthouse site comprises a 300' by 300' block, and part of an adjacent block at the southwest corner of the central business district. A portion of the street separating these blocks is to be abandoned. The program is for a 100,000 square foot federal courthouse. The program of a courthouse includes the courtrooms themselves, judicial chambers, and those agencies that prosecute, defend, house or escort defendants.
There are at least two fundamental symbolic contradictions that require resolution. First, as the courtrooms themselves are typically buried in the core of the upper floors, courthouses run the risk of looking like office buildings, belying their significance. Second, they are nominally public buildings but are increasingly secure, resistant to bomb blasts, and difficult to access. The courtrooms here have been placed on the upper floor where they are marked by their silhouette, and the public, multi-story glass lobby dominates the long exposure on highway 1. Secure parking has been pushed up due to the water table, so the entrance sits a full story above grade, marked by a long flight of steps and a monumental ramp. A porch delivers people under cover from the corner to the lobby entrance.