As we pay tribute on Armed Forces Day to honor those who protect our freedoms, we go back to RLF’s first government project – the Florida Supreme Court Building. RLF Founder James Gamble Rogers led the design of this impressive building, which proved to be a turning point for the firm marking a transition from a primarily residential designer to a worldwide leader in the federal market sector. Since then, RLF is proud to have worked with our armed forces to deliver an expansive portfolio of federal projects in 30 states, 20 countries, and on five continents.
Designed by RLF founder James Gamble Rogers II, in partnership with Pensacola-based Young and Hart, the Florida Supreme Court building’s design was part of a state-financed competition for four projects – the Supreme Court, a new 105-bed hospital, a new State Road Department building, and the Millard Caldwell Office Building.
The Supreme Court Building was designed in the Classical style reminiscent of the Roman Pantheon and traditional to many government buildings. It is often characterized by symmetry, columns, rectangular windows, a front porch topped with a pediment, and durable building materials such as marble, concrete, and brick. It is said that Rogers was also inspired by the work of Architect John Russell Pope, especially the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, a building with a similar layout and features.
One of the most interesting facts about the Florida Supreme Court building is that many of the walls were cast in monolithic concrete, a process of pouring concrete into large wooden molds dating back more than 1000 years. In fact, in some areas, the walls are nearly two feet thick, a detail that proved challenging during subsequent building renovations.
The building’s stature and architectural features characterize the prestige and dignity associated with the functions of the esteemed court. Its front elevation features a temple design with six Doric columns and a portico entry into a vast domed rotunda. Three sets of doors lead into the center of the rotunda surrounded by eight antique marble columns with ionic capitals and bases carved from Italian Carrara marble. The rotunda itself is impressive. It was designed and constructed by the Guastavino Company, a father-son team known worldwide for their self-supporting vaults and arches made from interlocking tiles and mortar. A marble replica of the Supreme Court seal lies in the center of the rotunda floor. Another set of doors make a grand entrance into the courtroom. Two-story office wings flank both sides of the courthouse. The iconic 50,000-square-foot building was completed in 1948 at a price tag of only $1.5 million.
In 1990, extensive renovations were made to the building including the addition of two new wings designed to match the original building and two open-air courtyards. In 1992, the Florida chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) awarded the Supreme Court building its “Test of Time” award given in recognition of the lasting value of good architectural design.