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4.6 acres; a key waterfront site on Fan Pier in South Boston

Index to Massachusetts Projects


Gross Floor Area
765,000 s/f

Occupiable area:
500,000 s/f

United States General Services Administration

Time Frame
Public Dedication:


John Joseph Moakley
United States Courthouse and Harborpark

Boston, Massachusetts
Completed 1998


Lead Designers:


Henry N. Cobb
Ian Bader


Federal courthouse

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The John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse on Fan Pier serves as headquarters for the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit and the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. The building houses two courtrooms for the Court of Appeals and 25 courtrooms for the District Court, as well as 40 judges' chambers, a Circuit law library, the office of a United States Congressman, offices for the United States Attorney, extensive support facilities for the United States Marshals service and Pre-Trial and Probation services, as well as a day-care facility. The 765,000-square-foot building, clad in water-struck brick with granite trim, has ten floors above grade and one below.

Public access to the courtrooms is provided through a sequence of spaces — Entrance Hall, Rotunda, Great Hall, and Galleries — that shape an eventful passage from the loosely ordered public realm of the street to the highly ordered public realm of the courtroom. A commissioned work of art by Ellsworth Kelly, comprising 21 large-scale paintings installed in the Rotunda and Galleries, enriches these spaces while signaling their complementary roles — the former enclosed and contemplative, the latter open and engaged with city and harbor. The courtrooms themselves are distinguished by a motif of large arches defined by wood moldings and stenciled ornament, dignifying equally all the participants — judge, jury, witness, litigants, lawyers, spectators — in the proceedings that take place therein.

To maximize the benefit to the public of its prime waterfront location, the courthouse incorporates an exceptionally broad array of services and amenities. These include accommodations for a café, information center and excursion boat ticket office in an arcaded waterfront loggia, as well as spaces for exhibitions, lectures, meetings, and dining in the Great Hall of the courthouse, overlooking the Harborpark. The L-shaped building covers 93,500 square feet at ground level, freeing more than half of its 4.5-acre site for public open space.

The Harborpark, an integral part of the Courthouse project, occupies the site's entire 850-foot-long waterfront. A broad cobblestone and brick-paved promenade at the water's edge extends the city's Harborwalk system, offering panoramic views of downtown Boston and its harbor, as well as access to ships that may be berthed at fender piles and a floating dock along the sea-wall. The Harborpark, with its varied spaces for quiet recreation, is landscaped with trees and plants indigenous to the New England seashore. The park is directly accessible from Old Northern Avenue via the waterfront promenade with its adjoining loggia, as well as from the courthouse via a circular Entry Pavilion located at the midpoint of the transparent metal-and-glass conoid that embraces the Courthouse Lawn — an open space constituting the shared symbolic center of both courthouse and Harborpark.


Major Components

27 courtrooms, grand jury suite, jury assembly room, support facilities, offices, judges' chambers, District library, skylit entrance hall, 108' high skylit Rotunda, Great Hall shaped by a 372' long sloped glass conoid, public galleries, monumental public art, dining, childcare facility, outdoor arcade, 2.3-acre landscaped park, other public amenities




National Endowment for the Arts:
Presidential Design Awards 2000:
Federal Design Achievement Award



American Institute of Architects:
Presidential Design Citation



American Institute of Architects / DuPont:
DuPont Benedictus Award for Innovation in Architectural Laminated Glass



American Institute of Architects:
District of Columbia Chapter: Award of Merit



Saflex Safe & Sound Award:
First Annual Award for the Use of Laminated Glass in Design



American Institute of Architects / Brick Institute of America: Brick in Architecture Award



General Services Administration:
Honor Award for Design


Pei Cobb Freed & Partners services

Architectural Services through Design Development; Design review of exterior envelope, courtrooms and public spaces;  Interior Design of courtrooms, judges' chambers and all spaces accessible to the public; coordination with associate  architect on construction documents and construction administration

Executive Architect

Jung / Brannen Associates, Boston, MA



LeMessurier Consultants, Cambridge, MA


Mechanical / Electrical

Cosentini Associates LLP, New York, NY


Courts Consultant

Gruzen Samton, New York, NY



Olin Partnership, Philadelphia, PA, and
Carol R. Johnson & Associates, Cambridge, MA



Photo credits

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