Courthouse with a Sense of Style

17 Jan, 2007 By: Heather Livingston

Morphosis uses BIM to buck convention and design a federal building that invigorates the landscape.

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Thanks to the dedication of the GSA (General Services Administration) to providing public buildings that are examples of design excellence, the citizens of Eugene, Oregon, now boast one of the most architecturally important civic structures in the United States. Designed by architecture firm Morphosis of Santa Monica, California, the Wayne L. Morse U.S. Courthouse was officially dedicated on December 1, 2006.

The new courthouse is located on land that was once occupied by a vegetable-processing plant and was chock-full of industrial contaminants. GSA cleaned up the brownfield for Eugene's new brushed-steel, curvilinear, 270,000 square-foot justice facility that includes six courtrooms, associated chambers and ancillary spaces.

The Wayne L. Morse U.S. Courthouse in Eugene, Oregon, was designed to visually bridge the gap between citizens and government.

Morphosis designed the courthouse to visually connect America's citizens and its government. Where once civic architecture was synonymous with proud, beautiful and awe-inspiring buildings, in the past century it has been defined more by lowest design and construction costs regardless of performance, design homogeneity and increasing security protocols. GSA's Design Excellence program has steadily begun to reinstitute civic architecture that the American people can embrace with pride. By focusing on concepts of integrity, vitality, dignity and substance, Morphosis principal Thom Mayne, FAIA, infused the building with imagery that beckons citizens to reclaim their proprietary relationship to government and the justice system.

Break with Tradition

In most justice facilities, the courtrooms are located at the building's center, with support spaces and circulation radiating outward. Morphosis' approach to the Eugene courthouse was to present the courtrooms as independent objects, while still resolving all the given requirements for security, adjacencies and circulation. Supporting spaces occupy a two-story, monolithic plinth at the base of the building, and the courthouses rise above in an expression of their independence.

To achieve its striking design, which is LEED-Gold Certified by the U.S. Green Building Council, Morphosis used TriForma, Bentley Systems' extension of MicroStation, for 3D BIM (building information management).

"By using Bentley's model-centric approach, Morphosis more efficiently produced construction documents that concisely conveyed the design intent," explains Marty Doscher, Morphosis IT director. "By supplying a construction-ready model, which unites the various modeling and detailing platforms, there was a more seamless integration among the design and construction team members."

The BIM software enabled Morphosis to focus design development on the 3D model, creating continuity from the conceptual design through the construction documents. The model allowed Morphosis to continue to evolve the design while coordinating between the many consultants on the project, using myriad platforms, and allowed integration between the 2D and 3D work. With TriForma, "there's a much tighter integration between the drawings and the models, so the floor plans and sections and elevations that we were churning out for the courthouse came right from the TriForma model," Doscher says.

"It works for us because [TriForma] integrates the modeling and drafting, which is important for us because we like to design as late into the game as possible," Doscher explains. "Because you're using the model to drive the drawings, it allows you to make these changes. You don't have to worry about it because the drawings are coordinated."

Morphosis is no stranger to 3D modeling: The firm has been using 3D software for a number of years, beginning with form.Z (from auto-des-sys) in the mid-1990s. "Design on the courthouse started in 3D from day one," Doscher explains. By combining a model-centric process with its in-house 3D printing and laser cutting tools, Morphosis was able to produce physical models at every stage, Doscher adds, allowing for a much more interactive group experience of the design evolution.

The brushed stainless curvilinear exterior of Eugene's new courthouse.

Next Dimension

On designs with complex skins such as Eugene's courthouse, it can be difficult to convey design intent. Relying on tables of x,y,z points solves the problem of locating elements in 3D space but overlooks important aspects of how coordinates relate to each other, how to achieve offsets for assemblies with layers of components, and how elements must move in concert in response to detailing issues and field conditions. As an example, Doscher cites the extreme level of precision of the stainless skin: "There are almost no flaws in it, and the geometry that it spans is extremely complex and interconnected. We would not have been able to achieve that level of precision had we not modeled it."

The TriForma model of the courthouse was developed to record the relationships between complex geometries, and Bentley's GenerativeComponents helped to formalize the geometric constraints and demonstrate how they operated. GenerativeComponents, a MicroStation add-on, is a parametric and associative design system that gives designers and engineers ways to explore alternative building forms without manually building the detail design model for each scenario, increasing efficiency in managing conventional design and documentation.

The building's exterior skin constraints modeled in GenerativeComponents.

Doescher calls this type of technology the next dimension in 3D modeling. "It's not just how you model, but, 'How do you record the decisions that you're making?' and, 'How do you communicate those decisions and intent to someone else?'" With a clear understanding of these constraints, parties new to the team could appreciate the importance of geometric integration with adjoining trades.

"All too often, changes made by one trade do not propagate to other impacted trades until collisions are encountered in the field," Doscher explains. "By virtually coordinating adjoining trades via a single 3D model that is coincident with the construction drawings, changes made by one trade are easier to track through the shop drawing process, saving the client thousands of dollars and countless hours in potential delays."

Those savings in time and money take on another level of importance for public buildings such as the Eugene courthouse that are funded by the American people.

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