A 44-floor downtown apartment tower at the southeast corner of East Third and Brazos Streets by Houston-based multifamily developer the Hanover Company has cleared its first hurdle on the long road from the drawing board to reality. At a meeting earlier this week, Austin’s Historic Landmark Commission approved the certificate of appropriateness for the demolition of the 1904 brick structure now standing atop the 0.4-acre tract at 201 East Third Street, where the 306-unit tower will eventually rise.
The existing structure, originally built as a warehouse and retail grocery store and operating in roughly that same capacity until its renovation to office space in 2000, certainly has a lot of character — but upon review, Commission staff determined the building doesn’t meet the city’s criteria for landmark designation.
The building does not possess a unique location, physical characteristic, or significant feature that contributes to the character, image, or cultural identity of the city, the neighborhood, or a particular demographic group. It is not within the recognized “Warehouse District.”
— Historic Landmark Commission Staff Report, January 27, 2020
Although this determination grants Hanover the right to wipe the old building off the face of the earth and replace it with whatever it pleases — as long as it’s within code, natch — the developers are taking a far more nuanced approach, voluntarily preserving the spirit of the original building in the design of the new tower’s base.
Designed by international architecture firm Solomon Cordwell Buenz, the Third and Brazos tower will rebuild the existing exterior masonry details of the old warehouse at its ground level, possibly even reusing some of the original building’s bricks or at least replicating the prior structure’s material character — the arched doorways, for one.
The last time this project went before the HLC, representatives of the developers and architects stated that none of the original building materials would be reused, but rather rebuilt to match, so it’s unclear if this is a change of tune on their parts or if we just misunderstood them the first time around. That’ll happen sometimes.
These rebuilt masonry walls will be set back from the property lines on the Third Street side of the building, in keeping with the original structure’s placement — meaning that the glass walls of the new tower will actually extend beyond that masonry, creating a sort of transitional space between inside and outside.
Since the project’s 5,292-square-foot restaurant space will also face Third Street, this so-called “patio” area will, at least according to the renderings, serve as a unique seating arrangement for patrons, not quite indoors but sheltered from the elements. It’s hard to explain without pictures, so thankfully we’ve got a few.
The rebuilt warehouse details really add a lot of character to this project, but if you look closely at the image above, you can also get a better look at the materials used for the garage screening, up in the top left corner — it’s just a closer look at the vaguely rust or copper-colored panels you can also see in the big rendering at the very top of this article, which we’re gonna post again for your convenience:
Between these two renderings, especially considering the details visible in the closer-up image, it looks like that garage screening is some sort of perforated metal panel. Combine that with all the bricks and that nice wooden soffit visible at the top of the podium covering what appears to be an amenity deck, it’s clear Hanover’s going for a warm, natural tone — a sort of Austin vernacular reflected in projects like our City Hall, JW Marriott, and new Central Library. (We’re not just guessing, either — the architects mention these projects as inspirations in their presentation.)
That direction for the building’s design doesn’t jibe at all with the other apartment tower Hanover’s building across town at Fifth and Lavaca Streets — though it’s also designed by SCB, Hanover Republic Square looks downright plain by comparison. It’s not unattractive by any means, we just consider it a good demonstration of how different two buildings by the same architect can end up. Take a look at basic massings of both towers next to each other and you’ll see what we’re talking about:
If nothing else, it’s a testament to the sheer power of design, and we don’t think it’s going out on a limb very far to say we prefer the Third and Brazos tower’s look — it’s downright compelling, especially with its homage to the previous warehouse structure’s character. Isn’t historic preservation fun when you aren’t forced to do it?