Gerald R. Ford Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse
Grand Rapids, Michigan

The Gerald R. Ford Federal Building and Courthouse was built as a part of a wave of new Federal Government facilities in the 60's and 70's. These buildings were built in the modern idiom as GSA embarked on what became the most aggressive public building campaign in the nation's history. As a key component of the Grand Rapids government center, the Federal Building remains an important public work and civic building. However, the building public spaces have not materially changed since its construction. Two conditions have prompted reconsideration of the public area: security demands in a post September 11 climate and maintenance issues related to the plaza area.

Security concerns dictated the relocation of building entries, reconfiguration of building entry patterns, introduction of security apparatus, and other significant alterations. The original principal entry along Michigan Avenue was closed to direct the primary public entry to the south side of the building within the plaza area in order to better manage the security screening process. While most staff access the building from the underground parking garage directly to an internal stairway, the public enters from either the stair at the southwest corner of the plaza or from Ottawa Avenue on the east side.

The renovation reconfigured the public spaces of the main floor by capturing tenant space to the immediate east of the Lobby. This strategy improves traffic flow by "diverting" the visitor off-axis thru a free zone parallel to the main entry into the security area where screening takes place. A new canopy at the south elevation announces the buildings presence and signifies the location of the main entrance to the public. By utilizing a portion of the exterior loggia a vestibule is created. The design includes a glass light box sign element of steel and laminated glass that pays homage to President Gerald R. Ford and also announces the buildings entrance. This sign element provides a barrier between incoming traffic and out-going traffic. The glass light box in addition to reflective glass surfaces at the interior introduce a new color palette of translucent and black glazing to the material palette of the public space. These new glass elements contain the building directory, Charters of Freedom documents, Amber Alert signage, and etched quotes from President Ford.

In addition to the renovation of the courthouses public spaces, Huff + Gooden Architects facilitated a GSA commissioned a panel of architects to conduct a design charrette to explore options to improve the building appearance by modifying the facade to alter the image of the Courthouse building to one that is more suitable for such a significant public building. This work was conducted during a one-day design charrette wherein three GSA peer design professionals, all of whom are architects, brainstormed ideas and developed a series of strategies for changing the building appearance.