It’s not often that a low-rise building stops us in our tracks, but here goes nothing — the five-story office project designed by Gensler Austin as an expansion for the corporate headquarters of Whole Foods, now sitting in a late stage of construction at the corner of West Fifth and Bowie Streets, is shaping up to be one of the most impressive new pieces of architecture in downtown Austin. Have you seen it?
Its curved corners are obviously the most eye-catching feature here, an exterior element you’ll find in other recent Gensler projects including the equally stunning Springdale Green offices in East Austin and the dearly departed original “squircle” plan for Tower 5C. But the building’s use of materials is also some of the best we’ve seen downtown lately, with the intense presence of its dark-gray masonry enhanced with what appears to be wood cladding on the underside of the floorplates where they extend beyond the windows on each level — technically known as soffits.
Along with the impact of those curves, the contrast between the two major exterior elements of dark brick and warm wood creates a dynamic appearance best seen from the street. It’s quite an accomplishment for a building that’s not very tall. There’s a reason for that lack of height — the site, as a second-phase addition to the Shoal Creek Walk office complex, is largely covered by a Capitol View Corridor.
There are also floodplain-related considerations in play due to the site’s location directly adjacent to Shoal Creek — so along with its attractive design, the building’s an example of new downtown development making the most of a challenging piece of land. The project, by the way, is being built on behalf of Whole Foods by Endeavor Real Estate Group, with Gensler’s design along with landscape architecture from TBG Partners realized by the general contractors at DPR Construction.
Though the building’s seven-floor parking structure and lack of ground-level retail aren’t the most inspiring choices, its appearance certainly takes it further than most structures of this size. We’re pushers for density, walkability and vibrant street-level uses on all fronts, downtown and otherwise, but there’s still something to be said for the public benefit of buildings that just plain look good and make you happy when you see them. Could we put that in Austin’s new Urban Design Guidelines somehow?