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Modernization of Historic Courthouses: A Look into 410 E Street, Washington, DC

410 E Street Exterior
Written by Mary Petrino, Valerie Vanchieri, and Alison Wheeler

By Mary Petrino, Valerie Vanchieri and Alison Wheeler


October 17, 2018

As architects and interior designers in the US capital city, we know that “past is prologue” for innovative modern architecture. The buildings of the Washington D.C. Metro Region reflect an integrated perspective on the architectural periods that have historically defined the local urban landscape. Sadly, many of the City’s significant buildings were lost in the 1960’s under the guise of “urban renewal”. In order to prevent further loss, we must take on the responsibility of preserving DC’s architecture for current and future generations as well as public trust.


Preservation Implications

Breathing new life into old buildings presents challenges relating to accessibility, sustainability, and emerging technologies among others. Rather than demolishing buildings, revitalization efforts make for “smarter cities” by preserving craftsmanship and diversity that would otherwise be lost from the urban fabric. The preservation of significant 20th century architecture respects not only architectural cohesion but more nuanced details like the public funding that established these buildings. Moreover, after renovations are complete, these buildings are arguably more efficient to operate now that new procedures and systems have been introduced.


Public Funding and Sustainability

Sustainability impacts can be two-fold. In making these buildings more energy efficient, we can reduce operation costs and energy consumption as well. Because of the existing structural integrity of buildings, there are also benefits for HVAC and security systems when compared to building new structures. Furthermore, older buildings were constructed with a great deal of craftsmanship that is nearly impossible to replicate. The public funding necessary to create similar buildings today would be double, if not triple, the expense. This is why renovating these buildings makes the most sense, respecting the public funding and efforts that went into these buildings and the maintenance needed to restore them.

Designed and constructed in the early 1940s by renowned architect Nathan Corwith Wyeth, FAIA, 410 E Street housed the “Juvenile Court” of the District of Columbia until the 1970s. Thereafter, the building provided office space for the DC Government. Over the years, the building had fallen into disrepair. In 2006, the DC Courts acquired it for the purpose of housing the Courts Mediation Program and Information Technology Services Division, which provides court-wide hardware, network systems and technical support. IBI Group served as the Design Architect for the 40,000 SF Base Building renovation project, including both interior and exterior renovations. Additionally, the Courts retained IBI Group as the Architect of Record to design, plan, program and produce Construction Documents for the interior renovations and upgrades.


Concept and Context

To begin a restoration project this complex, it is important to first undergo a feasibility study to evaluate the building. Work on 410 E Street began in 2005, when IBI Group produced a feasibility study that evaluated the restoration of the building. Under the scope of this study, the design team proposed alterations consistent with the Architectural Barriers Act Accessibility Standards (ABAAS). The team also realigned entrances for pedestrian traffic to nearby Metro stations. For the building interior, the team developed preliminary blocking, stacking, and space planning relative to the Facilities Master Plan. They proposed modifications, replacements, and additional services to bring the building up to modern code and facilities standards. The project wrapped up in 2012. The total construction cost was $17 million USD.

In the building blocking and stacking concept, the design team located the heavily-utilized Mediation Facilities on the Ground Floor (with a small portion of the Second Floor) to provide optimum public access to finely restored public spaces. To serve the Information Technology Services Division, the designers allocated the remainder of the space for offices and a new computer facility on the Third Floor.

IBI Group met with and obtained all the necessary approvals from the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts (CFA), the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) and the District of Columbia State Historic Preservation Office (DCSHPO). IBI Group planned and designed the project to achieve LEED® Gold Certification. The scope of the work included several important areas of competence and provided a number of innovative solutions to implement the desired client outcomes:


410 E Street

Nathan Corwith Wyeth (April 20, 1870 – August 30, 1963) was the original architect of 410 E Street.Working as a municipal architect, Wyeth designed and won approval of a Master Plan for Judiciary Square in 1934, a significant commission for that period of WPA-era work. Subsequently, he designed four buildings which helped to complete this Master Plan.

The first of these, the D.C. Police Court Building, was located on the west side of 5th Street NW, and ran from E Street NW about three-quarters of the way to D Street NW. This structure began construction in September 1936 and was finished in April 1937; however, this structure was razed in the mid-1960s. The second structure was the D.C. Municipal Building (East Administration Building) at 300 Indiana Avenue NW. Construction started on December 10, 1938, and it was finished in May 1941. To compliment the D.C. Police Court Building, Wyeth designed a third structure, the D.C. Municipal Court Building, which occupied the east side of 4th Street NW between E and D Streets NW. It was completed in late 1941, but was razed to make way for the building known as One Judiciary Square. The northwest corner of the square itself had long been occupied by a small, neoclassical structure which housed the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.

To balance this structure aesthetically, Wyeth designed a new fourth structure, the D.C. Juvenile Court Building at 410 E Street, NW, which was completed in 1940. A fifth structure, the Recorder of Deeds Building, was completed at 515 D Street NW immediately to the south of the D.C. Police Court Building. It opened originally in September 1941.

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