Birch Bayh Federal Building & US Courthouse

General Services Administration

Indianapolis, IN

Civic Workplace Government

Birch Bayh Courtroom

The historic Birch Bayh Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Indianapolis houses the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. A distinguished example of Beaux-Arts Architecture, the facility was constructed from 1902 to 1905 and was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. The courthouse was renamed in honor of Senator Birch Bayh in 2003. Accommodating 925 federal employees, the original U-shape construction occupied an entire block, rose four stories, and housed federal courts, offices, and the region’s main post office.

The modernization of Birch Bayh invisibly transformed the monumental landmark into a “machine for sustainability.” The structure now measurably mitigates the site’s urban heat island effect, decreases the building’s carbon footprint, and adds hundreds of thousands of gallons of water to the city’s supply every year.


  1. Feature 1:

    Strobe alarm systems installed are positioned to meet regulations, but with minimal impact on building walls.

  2. Feature 2:

    The team recreated 6-foot round plaster medallions to accommodate the increased flow of the new air handling systems.

  3. Feature 3:

    Plumbing was installed between walls to circulate rainwater from the green roof to bathroom utilities.

  4. Feature 4:

    Sprinkler systems are discreetly placed and in some cases painted to blend with the original building walls.

Building Facts

  • 540,000 GSF
  • LEED Gold certified
  • National Register of Historic Places

Awards & Honors

  1. GSA Design Excellence (Preservation & Conservation)

    General Services Administration

  2. Award of Excellence in Historic Resources

    AIA Washington, DC

  3. Historic Preservation Honor Award

    AIA Virginia

  4. Best Government/Public Building

    Engineering News-Record

What is Modernization?

Modernization is more than system and building upgrades. According to Matt Chalifoux, Historic Preservation Expert, “It’s an attitude about maximizing the assets you already have in terms of functionality, energy performance, and aesthetics.”


Landmark Workplace

GSA committed not only to preserving Birch Bayh but also to making the historic landmark a highly desirable, sustainable workplace – one that was also safe, comfortable, and secure – that helps the city keep and attract jobs.

Workplace Strategy Historic Preservation

Construction Behind the Scenes

Most of the physical work associated with the 32-month construction was kept out of sight by scheduling the bulk of the 488,000 worker hours between 6 PM and 6 AM. During business hours, only the field superintendent and project manager were on site. Construction logistics followed a complex phasing plan based on HVAC distribution, in which only one multi-floor zone was under construction at a time. We performed extensive site surveys by all disciplines prior to doing any conceptual planning to ensure we would understand the drivers and impacts of different phasing concepts.

Integrated Delivery

Engineering the Invisible

Interior of the richly-decorated Steckler courtroom

GSA Design Excellence projects must comply with USGBC LEED® or Green Globes® guidelines and incorporate a host of sustainable design elements while preserving the historic fabric of National Register properties. How do you install the latest systems and technology – from HVAC and MEP to security and telecommunications – without marring the richly decorated interiors and artwork in a building?

Historic preservation is more than skin deep. We believe that before you can imagine a building’s future, you need to understand its past. A detailed preservation analysis of the building as an organic whole enabled the team to create a strategic roadmap that guided decisions about equipment locations and the sensitive threading of new systems through delicate historic fabric. Work took advantage of hidden interstitial spaces, features that had yet to be fully restored or were hidden by prior unsympathetic work.

While older construction presents many unique challenges, we prefer to think of them as opportunities for innovation, rather than constraints. Aided by tiny video inspection cameras, the AEC team developed innovative installation pathways and strategies to enable minimally intrusive systems rehabilitation. Video workplaces coordinated delicate cutting and patching in historic areas. These techniques were captured – in written guidelines as well as instructional videos – to guide those who will work on the building in the future.

Historic Preservation Future Flexibility Modernization

Building the Green Roof

Prior to renovation, only 15% of Birch Bayh’s 2.33-acre site supported vegetation. With the addition of a 30,000 GSF vegetative roof - one of the largest on a historic structure – 43% of the site now sustains vegetation, supporting the goal of creating a highly desirable, sustainable workplace. The vegetative roof reduces the urban heat island effect, improves air quality by absorbing CO2, reduces storm water runoff from the site, and provides visual inspiration through seasonal flowering plants.

Resource Efficiency

The Birch Bayh project, to me, is the embodiment of the direction that preservation as a design discipline is moving, fully integrated with all the other design disciplines.

Matthew Chalifoux Matthew Chalifoux, FAIA Historic Preservation & Design

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