Lunchtime Tourist

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July 18, 2005 // UPDATED 1:56 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Linda Koutsky
Linda Koutsky

United States Courthouse

300 S. 4th St.

Do you know what happens if you take the curve of the Federal Courts Building's facade and use it to draw a circle on a map of Downtown? Our beloved City Hall would be in the exact center. That was designer William Pederson's way of embracing our architectural heritage while visually linking the two structures.

A national competition was held for the building's design, and the Kohn Pederson Fox firm (KPF) of New York submitted the winning proposal. Firm Principal William Pederson is a native of St. Paul and graduate of University of Minnesota's School of Architecture. He also designed Accenture Tower (333 S. 7th St.) and St. Paul Travelers building in St. Paul. KPF was founded in 1976. With offices in New York, London and Tokyo, the firm has designed hundreds of buildings scattered throughout more than 30 countries.

Local firm Architectural Alliance - known in the area for their branded northwoods look for Caribou Coffee, designed interior spaces, courtrooms and the Federal Caf. This building's entrance and lobby are accented with local materials: red granite from St. Cloud and beige kasota stone from Mankato.

The Federal Courts Building opened for business in 1997. A 15-story tower is filled with courtrooms for federal cases, civil rights issues, banking laws, bankruptcy, constitutional rights and interstate lawsuits. A six-story wing houses offices, and a smaller structure on the east side is a beautiful and understated caf good for people-watching. The precast-concrete and glass building was built by 200 construction workers using 4,200 tons of steel and cost $120 million.

The building covers only half the block, leaving a vast plaza facing City Hall's original entrance. It's one of Downtown's largest, and most controversial, public outdoor spaces. Renowned Boston, Mass. landscape architect Martha Schwartz designed the plaza. Diagonally placed drumlins (grass-covered berms) and scattered logs are supposed to be symbolic of glacial deposits. Bronze cartoonish figures by Tom Otterness animate the plaza and make you want to smile even if you are on the way to bankruptcy court!

Local trivia: Minnesota's first federal court building, built in 1902, is now St. Paul's Landmark Center.

LUNCH TIP: The building's Federal Caf serves grilled specialties in a space overlooking the plaza.

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