Calaveras County - New San Andreas Courthouse

  • Client

    • Calif. Administrative Office of the Courts
  • Project Type

Design Achievement - As part of the initial planning sessions for Calaveras County's New San Andreas Courthouse, DLR Group helped define goals and key expectations rooted in the expression of the courthouse as a representation of democracy and a place of importance in the local community. The unique rural context, set among delicate oak woodlands and natural topography, was also a source of inspiration. A small archaeological site with Indian grinding stones links the parcel to an earlier time. This historical connection and views to the Sierra foothills beyond became an integral part of how the design team began to think about the building. In orientation, form, materials, and details the facility is a gesture toward this place and time, layered with elements of the past, and the dignity and honor associated with courthouses. Click here for local coverage of opening day ceremonies, and how this facility is positioned to improve public safety.

Scope Summary - The base of this 44,644 SF building is symbolic of the natural surroundings. Mitigating the extreme grade changes, free flowing and organic but weighted and grounded in its materiality, the building base becomes the foundation from which the upper floors spring.  The clerk of the court, jury assembly, and the court-support offices are housed on the first level. These components are the foundation and support network to the court system. The upper level of the building is ordered and balanced. Here the courtrooms are expressed in juxtaposition against the base. Just as the court system provides order and guidance to our changing society, this literal interpretation provides a resolution to the building massing. At the roof line the four courtroom volumes are expressed against a datum of metal which is symbolic of the mountains beyond as they rise above the horizon. DLR Group provided planning, programming, architecture, and building optimization services.

"This is a much safer facility. It is exciting, and in 50 years we will still be proud of this building.”
 - Merita Callaway, Calaveras County
   Board of Supervisors Chair

Honoring history
The project site is in proximity to a series of historic Indian settlements and State Parks that preserve the remaining artifacts of the Miwok Indians. The project team was excited by Indian grinding stones that are present on the building site, and the round house structures that were intrinsic by these native peoples. Early design thinking took cues from these gathering spaces in how they create a sense of community presence, define interior space, express themselves both vertically and across the topography, and how they meet the ground. 

Response to site
The site organization and entry procession are rooted in the idea of putting the courthouse at the top of the hill, or at the high point of the site. This location distinguishes the courthouse from the neighboring jail. An entry drive brings vehicular traffic into the site on axis with the building entrance. Access to the building from the public parking area to the south is across an entry plaza that signifies the arrival at a place of importance.

As the natural grade quickly falls away to the west, the adjacent plaza space provides a sense of stability and permanence to the entrance. The northern portion of the site has parking areas for the staff. A secondary staff entrance is provided to the north along a continuation of the main plaza space to the south. Secure parking for the judges is provided in a sub-level. 

Massing and balance
Key to the success of the building massing and overall design concept was to clearly establish a sense of balance and stability among the building components. The roof plane became the organizing element to which all parts reference.  Not only is the roof plane the datum for the four courtroom volumes, it also serves as the counterpoint to the falling grades to the west. As the roof plane extends to the west it frames the views to the mountains from the judicial chambers creating a sense of infinite space beyond the limits of the immediate context.

The interior is organized around a great hall. This two-story space not only provides a referential interior space, but links the users to the outside with views through the building and beyond. The first-time visitor can easily navigate between the floors and departments that branch off this single space. A grand stair connects the upper and lower floors as an extension of the procession to the courtrooms. The pedestrian nature of the interior circulation supports principles of sustainability and personal wellbeing. Daylight into the great hall is bolstered by an aperture in the roof, which provides light from above.

This connection between the outdoors and nature was an important design goal that is reflected in both the public and private office areas. Interior materials continue the exterior material palette. Stone and wood clad interior surfaces and reinforce the dialogue between inside and out.

Sustainability - orientation & envelope
The courthouse aligns with the sun’s path on an east-west axis. This allows extensive glazing on the north and south sides of the building to harvest daylight. Exterior louvers on the south facade block direct sunlight, preventing heat gain and glare. The shorter sides of the building on the east and west ends are designed to absorb less heat and minimize glare inside the facility. Shades on the west facade control afternoon glare while daylighting staff offices. A compact floor plan further maximizes views to the surroundings.

The courthouse is efficiently insulated to prevent heat gain in summer and heat loss in winter. A cool roof of white materials reduces cooling costs in the summer. Dual-paned, low-E glass further prevents heat gain and loss.

Stone-panel building materials provide long-time durability for the building. A rain screen system behind the panels protects the building from water intrusion and enhances envelope durability for a long-lasting facility.

Sustainability - site and exterior features
The courthouse design uses the following site strategies to conserve water, preserve water quality, and reduce carbon emissions.

The design further contributes to water quality beyond the courthouse’s site. Rather than let runoff flow primarily to drains (and eventually to treatment plants), the team found ways to enable natural water filtration processes. Here, rainwater is absorbed on site and returned to the earth by a landscaped detention basin known as a bioswale.

Exterior building materials include warm and inviting natural stone and wood, which are sourced directly and minimally processed with chemicals. The materials also link the architecture to the earth on which it stands and correlate with the landscape of soft, native grasses and the nearby native oak woodlands.

Sustainability - daylighting and views
Daylighting strategies harvest natural light to conserve energy and provide occupants and visitors with greater wellbeing, productivity, and health. Views also enhance wellbeing, and provide occupants with a sense of connection to the natural environment outdoors.

Diverse strategies in building orientation, the shape and size of the building, and managing the amount and quality of light allowed into the building at different times of day produce significant daylighting throughout the building. Long expanses of north- and south-facing glass harvest light and views for as many occupants as possible, and allow daylight to penetrate deep into the building. In deeper interior spaces, skylights provide indirect light. Energy-saving sensor-based lighting controls respond to natural light conditions and user preferences to supplement available light with electric lighting as needed.

Sustainability - energy efficiency
The courthouse achieves 38% operational energy savings through good passive design decisions in building orientation and high-performance envelope construction; good daylighting strategies combined with advanced lighting controls; efficient HVAC systems; and on-site renewable energy sources in rooftop photovoltaic panels. Energy not supplied by rooftop photovoltaics comes from sustainable hydroelectric power sources.


The new Calaveras County Courthouse uses 38% less energy than a typical new building of its kind.

Lighting strategies save significant energy, include: use of highly efficient LED’s in many of the courthouse’s fixtures; daylight-responsive controls and sensors in offices, conference rooms, restrooms, and closets; and central time clock control for energy-saving shut-offs of interior lighting after operational hours. A central time clock also controls parking lighting to respond to changing needs across the seasons, while sensors reactivate off lighting when activity is detected.

To ensure that building systems operate effectively to conserve energy and support user comfort, the project team performed commissioning services on the HVAC, lighting control, and A-V systems.

Sustainability - interior materials
Materials chosen for the courthouse include:

  • Locally sourced materials: concrete and concrete blocks, steel framing, aluminum window framing, insulation, and wood products.
  • Recycled-content materials: structural steel, aluminum window frames, steel studs, acoustical ceiling tiles, insulation, and doorknobs.
  • Low- and no-VOC materials: paints and stains, flooring, ceiling, cabinetry, textiles, and furniture.
  • Wood materials: used from sources certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).


Sustainability - indoor air quality
Diverse design strategies contribute to improved indoor air quality for occupant health and wellbeing. These include effective air filtration throughout the building and its HVAC systems, as well as the use of low- and no-VOC materials referenced above. During construction, the team followed clean construction guidelines including: protecting building materials from contamination by moisture or particulates; and separating inside space from exterior space to keep out weather, allergens and dust.

Awards & Recognition

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  • Honor Award, Design

    American Institute of Architects (AIA) Central Valley
  • Merit Award, Sustainability

    American Institute of Architects (AIA) Central Valley
  • Merit Award

    American Institute of Architects (AIA) Florida
  • Honor Award for Masonry

    American Institute of Architects (AIA) Florida
  • Award of Honor

    American Institute of Architects (AIA) Orlando
  • Design Excellence Award

    American Institute of Architects (AIA) Sierra Valley Chapter
  • Certificate of Merit (unbuilt)

    American Institute of Architects (AIA) Academy of Architecture for Justice (AAJ)
  • Award of Merit (unbuilt)

    American Institute of Architects (AIA) Orlando
  • Award of Merit

    Engineering News Record (ENR) California

Calaveras County - New San Andreas Courthouse

Calif. Administrative Office of the Courts