The Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center (ESB-MACC) located at 600 River Street is an often-overlooked masterpiece of Mesoamerican-inspired modernist architecture, standing at the crown of downtown Austin’s ever-changing Rainey Street District and representing the historic working-class Mexican American character of the neighborhood prior to its rapid development starting in the 2000s. Designed by the late Mexican architect Teodoro González de León with Hispanic-owned local studio CasaBella Architects, many Austinites are unaware that the center’s striking crescent-shaped structure is incomplete — the building as it appears today mostly dates back to 2007 with some small additions in 2010, but plans for two further phases of construction fell by the wayside unfunded.
Nearly 15 years after the facility’s opening, the city’s finally making that wrong right, with a facility expansion plan by the Parks and Recreation Department approved by the Austin City Council in 2018 and funded by a number of sources including the city’s bond election held the same year. We’ve run down the general plans for the center’s transformation earlier this year in further detail if you’d like to review the finer points — bottom line, current expectations for the project indicate the facility will roughly double in size, with a design from the partnership of local architecture firm Miró Rivera and acclaimed Mexican architect Tatiana Bilbao.
The expansion will include extended north and south wings on either side of the existing crescent-shaped MACC building, containing a number of new teaching and exhibit spaces. The centerpiece of the design is a landscaped change in grade around the site’s central outdoor public square, or zócalo, essentially digging away at the area surrounding the plaza leaving it elevated above the ground, which would allow the center to control access for ticketed events. The space below the zócalo will contain a new subterranean level with a black box theater and gallery space, opening out onto an event lawn near the Hike-and-Bike Trail and the shore of the lake beyond — it’s all kinda hard to convey via text alone, but the renderings handle it better than us.
The timeline of the project has shifted slightly since we first saw the first designs for the expansion back in January. At the moment, the plan is to close the building to the public in mid-December later this year, with the facility remaining closed through all of 2023 and 2024 — the grand re-opening is currently scheduled for sometime in 2025. According to the city, the site permit for the project is now under review, with its design package expected for completion by late summer and preliminary reviews with the laundry list of city agencies involved in this sort of venture still ongoing.
Sure, that’s a whole lot of words about a project that hasn’t even broken ground yet — but the MACC, representing one of the Rainey neighborhood’s last physical reminders of this area’s rich history even as the district is absorbed into downtown’s more urban fabric, is every Austinite’s business. We’ll look forward to the kickoff of this long-promised expansion later this year.