Comstock's magazine 0618 - June 2018 - Page 73

Yuba City’s impressive and strategically designed Sutter County Superior Courthouse stands as a powerful and dig- nified civic space for the largely agricultural community. Taking center stage in the city’s downtown, the courthouse was erected on a site that had sat empty for more than 30 years. As the tallest building in the city, its symmetrical de- sign and striking vertical elevation make a statement that’s hard to miss. With noteworthy experience in courthouse and civic projects in and out of California, architecture firm Ross Drulis Cusenbery won the project through a traditional pub- lic bid process. The client — the State of California — had taken over all courthouse responsibilities from the counties beginning in 2002 through the Trial Court Facilities Act. The transfer process took seven years and included more than 500 buildings and 20 million square feet of space. The architects had a stunning site to work with, sur- rounded by mature tulip trees and the neighboring Sutter Buttes as its backdrop. Drawing its design inspiration from the imposing peaks, RDC created a tall element in a flat landscape whose shape and color mimics the erosion of the volcanic domes of the Buttes. They designed four intimate courtyards, two for the visiting public and two for the staff, which also serve a hidden function as a type of protective perimeter barrier. The building’s strategic orientation with north- and south-facing windows helps mitigate the Central Valley’s hot climate. “We took this singular block based on the color and vol- ume of the Buttes and eroded it with four courtyards,” says RDC design principal Mallory Cusenbery. “And they became the way to create a softer, landscaped, brighter environment for gathering.” The architects tackled another functional challenge: to acknowledge the emotional layer that comes with being in a court environment. RDC designed a low-contrast environ- ment with very high ambient light and tone-on-tone colors to create a limited color palette that is calm and consistent, with the wayfinding clearly marked. A light-filled lobby and an easily accessible information booth greets visitors. The biggest site challenge was resisting the tendency to attach the courthouse to the jail, but instead treat the courthouse as an independent and standalone civic project. The archi- tects and county agreed to implement a vehicular transfer process. The project was completed in 2015. June 2018 | 79