Proj Overview


The Fred D. Thompson United States Courthouse and Federal Building is located in a downtown Nashville, Tenn., neighborhood, formerly populated by parking lots and old office buildings, that is undergoing rapid revitalization. Imposing and elegant, the building celebrates the role of the public in justice along with ideas such as transparency in government, says Patrick Burke, principal at Michael Graves Architecture & Design in Princeton, N.J. The imposing structure is also designed to exacting requirements for blast resistance and progressive collapse.

The design for the new courthouse and federal building was completed in 2006 and went out for bid in 2007. When the economic bubble burst in 2008, the project (among other U.S. courthouses) was temporarily put on hold. Funding wasn’t granted until 2015 and by then, the lead design architect—the Michael Graves/Thomas Miller Partners Joint Venture—was facing new criteria that Congress had set for the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA).

Read more about this project in the Summer 2021 issue of Ascent


While GSA still wanted a modern-looking building, the Nashville court representatives wanted it to be classical in style. Graves and Thomas Miller found a middle ground: a blend of classical and contemporary character that connects the past to the future.

Precast concrete lends itself to such a design because it can be molded into rounded shapes “Despite most of the detailing being very sharp and rectilinear, nods were made to classicism with stylized, classically proportioned columns at selected locations.


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Project Team

Lead Design Architects

Michael Graves Architecture & Design and Thomas Miller Partners joint venture

Design-Build Architect of Record

Fentress Architects

Structural Engineer

Thornton Tomasetti


Hensel Phelps Construction


U.S. General Services Administration

Precast Concrete Producer

Gate Precast Company

Precast Concrete Specialty Engineer


Key Project Attributes

  • GSA wanted the courthouse “to have significant gravitas to reflect the importance of justice in our society and express a degree of transparency and accessibility to all people.”
  • GSA stipulated that the architects could update the design but had to stay within the original design’s footprint.
  • The clean, crisp lines, the contrast between the solid surfaces and the glazed surfaces—it’s a very striking play on solids and voids. The hemicycle curtain wall at the northeast corner, which is the backdrop for the main entrance at the rotunda, is also a striking contrast to the precast walls on every other elevation.
  • While the building stands out as a stately and elevated institution in this context, its landscaped courtyard and future art installation relate it to the pedestrian experience of its Church Street frontage, Burke says.

Project/Precast Scope

  • There were 840 panels and 65 hardscape stair treads
  • There were 105 insulated wall panels with cast-in thin brick and split-face concrete masonry, separated by architectural banding
  • First floor included a topping slab over precast hollow-core planks, while floors two, three, and four were steel Eco-Span joists with slabs on metal decking.