Austin is one of (if not the) fastest growing cities in the nation. Spurred in part by its popularity among startups and big name tech companies (Google, Facebook, Dell), Austin’s biggest draw is a glowing reputation in the minds of millennials and young families. And as the people flood in, the buildings go up. Here we eyeball the structures that have already changed the local skyline, and those set to make a big impact in the near future.
Buildings reshaping Austin’s skyline
Acknowledging the growing obsolescence of traditional libraries (thanks, internet), Austin voted in 2006 to build a smart, six-story, $120-million library/cultural center overlooking Lady Bird Lake. The new hub will leverage technology (tablets, state-of-the-art search tools, e-readers, gaming consoles, etc.) and a blended, multi-use layout to bring a modernized well of information and artistic enrichment to the public. Perks at the New Central Library (710 West Cesar Chavez St) will include a 350-seat amphitheater for screenings and discussions, kitchen for culinary demonstrations and classes, age-targeted reading areas, rooftop garden, art installations, cafe, and zero-waste bookstore, among others. The Lake Flato Architects- and Shepley Bulfinch-designed center will operate 30% more efficiently than the law requires and will open in November 2016.
Downtown, Second Street District
Opened in 2011, the 2,750-seat venue represents the thread between old, funky Austin and the modern, booming city. The second home of the long-running PBS television program, Austin City Limits, was meticulously designed to optimize acoustics and keep the intimate feel of the show’s original studio. In addition to ACL tapings, it plays host to some 100 concerts a year, all of which utilize the unparalleled audio, lighting and high-definition recording systems. Keeping with Austin’s eco-friendly ethos, the Moody Theatre (310 West Willie Nelson Blvd), and adjoining W Austin Hotel and Block 21 building are LEED certified.Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Christina Murillo
Rainey Street District
Though the jumbo neon lights atop the newest Kimpton property instantly altered Austin’s skyline, the 16-story, 319-room hotel seems to melt seamlessly into the city’s fabric and culture. The name (a nod to Texas songwriter Townes Van Zandt), interior (by New York-based firm Markzeff Design), vibe and amenities are informed by the local live music and arts scene. Designed by Dallas-based WDG Architecture, the Hotel Van Zandt (605 Davis St) is the latest step in Rainey Street’s transformation from a microhood of single-family homes to a nightlife district with high-rise apartments and condos. Open as of November 2015, expect it to be the city’s most coveted reservation come SXSW.
Downtown, Seaholm District
Once visible from all of downtown Austin, the Seaholm Power Plant’s (800 West Cesar Chavez St) dormant smokestacks are now dwarfed by high-rise buildings. Rather than doze the shuttered 1950s industrial treasure, the city spent nine years clearing the site of hazardous materials and was given the green light for redevelopment from the EPA and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in 2006 (a nationwide first for a facility of its kind). A team of city-appointed developers are now repurposing the building and grounds into a 7.8-acre compound of offices, retail shops, restaurants and condominiums.Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Matthew Rutledge
Opened in 2012, the eight-courtroom glass and stone cube alongside Republic Square Park was designed by Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects. Striped with vertical, multi-story windows, the U.S. Federal Courthouse (501 W 5th St) occupies a full city block and affords natural light to nearly all its interior rooms and facilities. The building was designed and constructed to withstand various forms of attack, a fact that is at once dark, honest and an unfortunate sign of the times.Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Cbroders
The facade of the newest SoCo addition has polarized opinions: Some people (architecture publications and critics) love it, others lament its ’70s vibe (though most locals feel the landscaping brought the full picture into focus). No matter your feelings about the exterior, the Dick Clark + Associates- and Michael Hsu Office of Architecture-designed boutique hotel (1603 South Congress Ave) is a breath of fresh air in the well-established strip of restaurants and shops along South Congress Avenue. In additional to guest accommodations, the site is the new home of standout local indie boutique Sunroom, vintage motorcycle purveyor Revival Cycles, NYC-import Tenoverten nail salon, two new restaurants and a coffee shop.
Downtown, Seaholm District
Upon completion, the proposed 58-story, 685-foot, Jenga-esque residential tower will usurp the Austonian as the tallest structure in the city by a full two feet. In addition to enjoying the prized skyscraper superlative, the building’s development is a solid sign that Austin’s downtown re-urbanization and growing population density are not slowing down. For those looking to elevate their lifestyle, the tower’s 370 yet-to-be-built condos come with estimated price tags of $350,000 to $3 million and a prime suite of amenities. As of January 2016, financing for the $300-million spire is secure and site construction is set to begin directly. Welcome to Austin, the Independent (West Ave and West 3rd St).
Downtown, Convention Center District
The 1,066-room, 37-story giant is currently in construction one block east of the Austin Convention Center. When finished in mid 2017, the Fairmont (East Cesar Chavez St and Red River St) will be Austin’s largest hotel, snatching the title from the recently opened JW Marriott a few blocks to the northwest. Judging from the size and location of both properties, the city is ripe to become a prime destination for jumbo-size conventions and trade shows well beyond the established SXSW and ACL fests. As Austin pushes to become the gathering place for industry- and interest-focused meetups, the hotel (and predicted community improvements paid for by its occupancy and property taxes) should prove to be an attractive lure. The Fairmont will be connected to the Convention Center via a skybridge, in case you had any doubts.Photograph: Courtesy Gensler
Elroy, Southeast Austin City Limits
Opened in 2012 after a litigious start, the 3.42-mile racetrack and surrounding complex reportedly brings in around $1 billion annually to the Austin area by hosting the United States Grand Prix Formula 1 race, ESPN’s X Games, concerts and other motor sporting events. While the track itself hasn’t changed Austin’s silhouette (it’s flush with the ground save for the observation tower and stands), the ripple effects from the economic boost and international spotlight Circuit of the America’s (Circuit of the Americas Blvd) has brought undeniably have.Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Nan Palmero
University of Texas at Austin campus
Financed by taxpayer dollars, university funding and a $50 million donation from local computer scion Michael Dell, the new medical school, research center and teaching hospital will welcome its first class of students in the summer of 2016. While a brand-new institution may seem like a gamble for some prospective doctors and students, the allure of Austin and general excellence of the UT system come with great potential. The school’s mission to create a “vital, inclusive, health ecosystem” will play an integral role in relieving Austin’s pains—growing or otherwise.Photograph: Courtesy Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin