Inspiring civic pride, the Theodore Roosevelt United State Courthouse brings elegant, timeless architecture to Brooklyn

Brooklyn, NY, USA

Visible from the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan, the new U.S. Courthouse redefines the Brooklyn skyline and provides a new landmark for the downtown civic center. Located on Camden Plaza, near the borough’s historic main post office and adjoined to the original courthouse, the courthouse is sympathetic to its historic Brooklyn surroundings while projecting a contemporary image for the U.S. federal justice system. 

Light is a recurring theme, extending to the artwork that flanks the entrance. Rising 24 feet above the sidewalk on granite pylons, a pair of sculptures by artist Lisa Scheer depicts abstracted torches.  
“How wonderful that Brooklyn’s skyline has been enhanced by this new beacon of civic pride. I fully agree with the architect, my good friend Cesar Pelli, who describes the courthouse as a noble structure that conveys the majesty and openness of the American judicial system.”
— Lurita Doan, Administrator, U.S. General Services Administration 

A shining light for civic justice 

The unifying theme of the design is “light”— expressed literally and figuratively throughout the building, from its light filled spaces to its 24-foot high sculptural torches. The complex contains an existing 6-story courthouse, a new 14-story courthouse, and a 6-story entry hall. The entry hall ties the two buildings together both functionally and compositionally, providing an easily identified central entrance into the shared lobby. Daylight reaches all public spaces and streams into the open, skylit lobby bringing both light and air into the heart of the complex. The design of the building strives to make the courthouse experience as pleasant as possible.  

Inside the building, sunlight fills all the public spaces, including elevator lobbies, waiting areas, jury lounges and dining areas. Courtrooms and jury deliberation areas also offer natural light and views. 

Balancing civic presence and physical security  

The design recognizes the inherent security constraints required of a federal courthouse but does so unobtrusively. The main public entry is a blast resistant, concrete-walled structure, physically separated and located before the security screening area. The lobby welcomes and engages the public in a grand and celebratory manner, but also provides ample space for security queuing. Laminated glass on the façade reduces flying glass shards; ballistic glass was incorporated on the U.S. marshals’ level, while the ground floor was fortified with a 1’ thick concrete back up panel. All of these security measures, however, are discreetly designed and virtually undetectable. 

The primary interior finishes are marble, travertine, terrazzo, wood and metal, all durable finishes with minimal maintenance and appropriate for a civic building. 
“My colleagues and I could not be more impressed with the entire Pelli [Clarke & Partners] firm. The courthouse is a thing of beauty, inside and out. And, more importantly, it works - for the judges and staff, the lawyers and litigants, and the jurors.”
—Senior Judge Raymond J. Dearie

Forging a lasting cultural legacy through design 

A combination of limestone, metal, and glass were used for the three elements of the complex. The stone is similar in color to other significant public buildings in downtown Brooklyn, while its reflective quality makes the building appear light. These materials form elegant facades that, along with the distinctive curved massing of the upper tower, acknowledge the prominence of the courthouse. Courtrooms and judges’ chambers arranged in a collegial layout with a single chambers floor located between two court floors. This layout reduces the size of the floorplate, creating a more tapered building profile.

More About the Project

Project Team

Principal Collaborators

  • Architect of Record: HLW International LLP
  • Mechanical and Electrical Engineering: HLW International LLP

Project Information

  • Location: Brooklyn, New York, USA
  • Clients: Government Services Administration, Northeast and Carribean Region
  • Size: 750,000 sq. ft. / 69,677 sq. m.
  • Completion: 2006
  • Firm Role: Design Architect


  • 1998, Certificate of Merit, AIA/Justice Facilities Review
  • 2005, Annual Award, Concrete Industry Board Roger H. Corbetta Awards Program,
  • 2006, Building Brooklyn Award, Public Works, Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce
  • 2006, GSA Design Excellence Award
  • Project Photography: Jeff Goldberg & David Sundberg