One thing you’ll hear quite often from folks with what you could call “mixed views” on Austin’s growth is that there’s just too many darn glass boxes going up downtown — punch the phrase “another glass box” into any search bar and you’ll discover that this is not a phenomenon unique to Austin or even North America. Like many of our city’s ubiquitous parking podiums, monolithic facades are incentivized by client demand — in this case, office tenants and residents desire floor-to-ceiling windows and abundant natural light, and the “glass box” tower meets those needs even if the resulting building looks a bit less interesting. (It’s a small price to pay for added housing and/or a bigger tax base, but aesthetic complaints are petty by nature, so humor us here.)
The Annie B apartment tower recently revealed by developers Stratus Properties for West 12th and San Antonio Streets had a bit of this going on in its design from Chicago-based architects SCB, although we appreciated the plan’s overall form and especially its masonry podium arguably paying homage to the look of the nearby Westgate Tower, a 1960s modernist masterpiece not afraid to seem a little boxy. But a visit to the Annie B’s site now reveals a slightly different set of renderings for the upcoming building — instead of the flat roof seen in previous images, a series of tiered setbacks at the top few levels now provide the tower with a proper crown!
Judging by the close-up rendering of the modified crown seen at the start of this article, it looks very likely that these setbacks are designed to create a better outdoor space for a number of penthouse residences at the top of the building. It’s possible that the developers planned to include these topmost units from the beginning but weren’t ready to show them off in full back when the project sought its density bonus from the Design Commission — either way, it’s hard to imagine anyone would take issue with the tweaks seen here, as they provide the full tower with a more dynamic appearance that feels even more evocative of midcentury design trends than before.
It’s not reinventing the wheel, but as the northwest region of downtown finally experiences the same sort of tower growth we’ve seen elsewhere in the central city, any interesting design choices are more than welcome. And hey, if you’re wondering, “What the hell does the name Annie B mean?” — buddy, have we got an article for you!