In Charlotte, North Carolina, Robert A.M. Stern Architects (RAMSA) has completed a sensitive modernization and addition to the historic Charles R. Jonas Federal Building & Courthouse. The new 8-storey wing, which contains new courtrooms, chambers, and support spaces, rises behind the existing century-old Courthouse and serves as an inspiring example of how significant and historic civic infrastructure can be modernized to maintain a distinct character and presence.
Constructed in 1918 before a tripling in size in 1933, the Jonas Courthouse required significant upgrades to meet the needs of a 21st-century courthouse. These upgrades include replacing ageing building systems, improving energy efficiency, and adding additional spaces better to support building occupants' needs and courthouse functions.
The new wing most notably accommodates nine new courtrooms, including the Special Proceedings Courtroom on the top floor and the judge's chambers. The existing building meanwhile features enhanced security, additional access to natural light, and improved wayfinding.
In terms of preservation, the project retains the historic and ceremonial entrance on West Trade Street while restoring the building's original lobby. Further to this, the coloration of the addition's precast concrete was carefully chosen to complement the original limestone. As a large-scale civic gesture, the portico of the existing Courthouse is echoed in the form of a double-height loggia high on the addition's exterior façade.
Historic and modern facades meet at a unique double-height stair hall between the new and old structures. Washed with natural light from a skylight above, this transitional, linking space provides the opportunity to see the original craftsmanship of the building up close and in detail.
A particular highlight of the project is the renovation of the existing Robert D. Potter Courtroom, which was undertaken in collaboration with courtroom planning experts CGL Companies. By restoring the ceiling, upgrading the lighting, and adding acoustic panelling, the architects have preserved the dignified design of the room while improving its functionality. The Potter Courtroom subsequently inspired the design of the nine courtrooms in the new wing, which all feature interiors primarily of wood and plaster.
The new building also includes a significant public art component with a series of mosaics by artist Ellen Driscoll that animate the streetscape along the building's façade at grade. The seven unique mosaics represent the history of the building and the region, with each commemorating a different aspect of the site's history.
Finally, the courtyard also integrates meaningful energy conservation strategies and an effective stormwater management system, including cisterns for drip irrigation and native plants selected for the landscape. Due to such measures, the project is in the process of achieving LEED Gold certification.