Boston Architects Win 2009 Paralyzed Veterans’ Barrier-Free America Award for John Adams Courthouse

Post Date: September 2, 2009
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Post Date:September 02, 2009

BOSTON, MA 09/2009 – The architects behind making a Boston landmark more accessible for people with disabilities received one of the nation’s most prestigious architecture and design accolades today from Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans).

CBT Architects, for their work on the John Adams Courthouse, are the 2009 recipients of Paralyzed Veterans’ Barrier-Free America Award. It’s the first time the award has been given for renovation work undertaken on a listed historical landmark, demonstrating that a 100-year-old building can be re-adapted for contemporary judicial needs and accessibility.

“The John Adams Courthouse is a beacon of universal access—and CBT Architects’ leadership in making it happen is an inspiration,” said Carol Peredo Lopez, AIA, Paralyzed Veterans’ national director of Architecture. “CBT Architects are community leaders who know that buildings and public places are for all people.  And accommodating people with disabilities shouldn’t be an afterthought, but a fundamental part of the design process. In fact, they know and practice the philosophy that all access is good for all.”

“Designing accessible public places is an essential element in creating viable and independent communities for all,” said Charles Tseckares, a founding principal of CBT Architects. “The John Adams Courthouse, like many historic buildings, was not originally designed to accommodate people with disabilities and special needs. Great care was taken during the restoration to create accessible solutions that preserved the character of the historic property, allowing all people to experience the building in the same manner.”

Here’s why the John Adams Courthouse is notably accessible:


  • The original sidewalk was cut away and a new entry plaza was constructed. Side ramps address the remaining level change.
  • Prior to the renovation, the atrium level was accessible only via exterior and interior stairs.
  • The original Somerset Street stairs were replaced with a granite landing platform flush with the interior floor. A new ramp now leads up to the landing.
  • Inside the Pemberton entrance foyer the original stair was repositioned and the floor lowered to plaza level. This allows for a clear one-level path from entrance to elevator.


  • Aisle spacing was designed to accommodate wheelchair passage, turning, and seating. Bench height meets clearance regulations.
  • The elevation change up to bench level can be accessed by a dedicated disability lift. The new bench is designed for access clearances at all positions.
  • A new ramp access to the judge’s bench supplements stairs that formerly accounted for the level change.


  • Access ramps or lifts have been added for all level transitions.
  • Nine elevators have been installed to serve all user groups at all levels of the building.
  • Braille signage has been added throughout the building.
  • The original narrow double doors have been replaced with wider single doors and accessible door hardware.
  • The Social Law Library aisles have been spaced to accommodate wheelchair passage and turning.

“Why is accessibility important to everyone? Well, if you’ve ever ridden an elevator on a subway system, or pushed a heavy shopping cart onto the pavement via a curb cut then you have experienced an example of accessibility in action—for you and for us folks in chairs,” said retired U.S. Marine paralyzed veteran Craig Cascella, president of Paralyzed Veterans’ New England Chapter.

The Barrier-Free America Award, established in 2001, honors and promotes leadership, innovation and action in the architectural and design communities in advancing accessibility — an advance that improves the quality of everyone’s life. Through their work, architects and designers can play an extremely important role in removing the barriers that people with disabilities face everywhere, every day. Previous recipients of the award include: architect Cesar Pelli for his accessible design of Washington, DC’s Ronald Reagan National Airport; Bob Vila for educating the public about the importance of accessible design solutions through his television show; Marca Bristo, President and CEO of Access Living for the organization’s Chicago-based headquarters; and architect Antoine Predock for Milwaukee’s Indian Community School.