Linn County Courthouse Public Art

The Linn County Public Art Commission and the Linn County Board of Supervisors have selected Cedar Rapids artist John Schwartzkopf’s proposal to provide a functional approach to public art in the Linn County Courthouse: benches.

Schwartzkopf will create approximately 20 wooden benches that will provide patrons in the Linn County Courthouse with comfortable, inviting seating, which has been lacking in recent years. Benches provide flexible seating while allowing space to set down papers, briefcases, and other personal effects. They provide a sense of scale which lends to reflection. Benches also enhance their architectural setting.
The benches will be moveable to allow flexibility to adjust to changes in building use and traffic patterns inside the Courthouse over time.

Inspiration & Attention to Detail
Schwartzkopf’s inspiration came from spending time inside the Courthouse and watching how people used the building. He was also inspired by the building itself and its location on May’s Island. In his proposal, Schwartzkopf noted that Cedar Rapids is one of very few cities with government functions located on an island in the middle of a river. One cannot view the Courthouse without seeing the river or reach it without crossing a bridge. Schwartzkopf noted these arched bridges have some of the most interesting architectural features in the city. Those same arches are reflected in the arches above the doorways into the Courthouse and in the building's windows.

Schwartzkopf is incorporating these elements into the base of the benches to give them a feeling of context within the building. They also will reflect its exterior setting. Schwartzkopf explains the arches in the base are a hybrid of the form of the bridges and the shape of the front door openings leading into the Courthouse atrium. The verticals recall both the bridge support elements and the mortar joints in the stone arches. The bench supports are shaped like the Courthouse columns, while the top bracing and cross bracing recall the dentil moldings at the crown of the building.

The Right Fit
The benches will create a feeling of enduring warmth in a building made primarily of hard materials: stone, glass, and metal. The benches top coats are a urethane-based finish, chosen for its durability and ease of repair. While any wood surface will accumulate some wear over time, this only adds to its character.

There is a story to Schwartzkopf’s choice of materials. Just as the Courthouse was flooded in 2008, his shop was also flooded. While his equipment was not salvageable, all of the wood was. The bulk of the wood for this project is from trees felled here in Cedar Rapids. The use of wood salvaged from the flood is very appropriate to use in a building with the same story.