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Federal Judiciary Building

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1989–1992, Edward Larrabee Barnes Associates. Columbus Circle and Massachusetts Ave. NE

With the Judiciary Building the architect of the Capitol's office leaped into the mainstream of late twentieth-century architecture by selecting a Postmodern design that was neither the most conservative nor the most innovative among the five finalists, all major corporate firms with excellent design reputations. Unlike the other competitors, New York architect Edward Larrabee Barnes chose to have a solar glass entry wall (a remnant of modernism), literally wedging it between two historicizing wings whose wall articulations fuse elements from both Union Station and the post office. From the station came thermal windows, which Barnes balanced atop rectangular ones to replicate the rhythms of Daniel Burnham's arcades. The layering of the Judiciary Building's walls with vertical pilasters and pronounced lintels below the cornice line, and square attic windows above it, reinterprets elements from the post office's main facade. Corner pavilions from both earlier buildings reappear in the Judiciary Building as the ends of its two main blocks and become part of its faceted main facade as they frame the glass entrance. Their uneven widths and offset relationship to one another is in direct contradiction to the strict rules of symmetry and axiality adhered to by Burnham and his contemporaries. Obvious contextual references where elements of nearby historical architecture are consciously reused are at the heart of Postmodernism. Often, as here, they are reused in ways that are slightly jarring and require both a second look and rethinking.

The office of the architect of the Capitol has never considered the matching of shades of stones used on the twentieth-century buildings and additions as a priority. The cold gray of the “white” Chelmsford, Massachusetts, granite on the Judiciary Building is infelicitous seen in such close conjunction with the gleaming white Bethel, Vermont, granite used for the other two buildings on Columbus Circle.

Writing Credits

Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee


What's Nearby


Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee, "Federal Judiciary Building", [Washington, District of Columbia], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of the District of Columbia, Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, 142-142.

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