It’s a little odd to imagine just how different the skyline of downtown Austin would look if only a few things had happened differently. Projects change, or simply die on the vine — they fail to secure their financing, they get significantly redesigned or “value engineered” to the point of being nearly unrecognizable from the original concept, maybe they even fall through for no apparent reason.
The ghostly lineup of Austin’s towers-that-might-have-been is long and strange, sometimes far stranger than the buildings we got. It’s fair to say that the financial crisis of 2007-2008 determined the look of downtown Austin more than any variable over the last decade or more — just take a peek at how many ambitious projects bit the dust after the downturn.
Keeping that in mind, since last week’s story covering the history of unrealized development at 308 Guadalupe Street, we’ve learned about two more lost plans for this site — and since we still don’t know much about the tower destined for the block, all we can do is look back.
Gensler Concept #2
In the story last week, we outlined an ultimately unsuccessful, but compelling Gensler proposal for a mixed-use tower at the site — but it turns out the firm actually had a second concept for this location, one that also never left the pad. Since I go nuts for this kind of thing, I was happy to hear details from Gensler designer Gerardo Gandy about this lost design, and since the building didn’t happen, the firm was happy to share it with me.
Here’s what Gensler calls 308 Guadalupe Scheme 2. Fairly similar to the firm’s other concept, it’s a mixed-use building, but this time with two distinctly separate towers rising from a shared podium. The podium itself would contain 1,800 parking spaces, 20,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor facing the street, and 100,000 square feet of office space.
The north tower, which is the taller one in the rendering above, would have contained a 200-room hotel and 400 residential units. The shorter south tower’s usage was offices — 328,000 square feet of them, to be precise. If you don’t count parking, the whole complex’s total size would have clocked in at 984,000 square feet. Gandy didn’t give me an exact height, but counting the floors, that tallest component of the tower is about 54 stories up.
Perhaps the most striking element of this structure’s design is its linked system of green rooftops and living walls, intended to extend the natural environment of Republic Square across the street into the tower itself, both visually and functionally. Gensler called this “Biophilic Design,” which is…well, I think it’s a pretty funny name.
I also can’t help but notice that this building’s design looks extremely similar to another unused Gensler concept for the redevelopment of the Austin American-Statesman site — just compare the shape of the rooflines:
Learning about this design is bittersweet, to say the least. Any new building concept bound for the site — which will hopefully emerge in the near future — is really going to have to knock my socks off to compete with the potential of this tower. I’m just happy we got to see it.
Austin Museum of Art
You’ll recall that back in 2010, Travis County purchased the land at 308 Guadalupe Street from the Austin Museum of Art — now known as the Contemporary Austin. All the way back in 1988, the museum began formulating plans for an 86,000 square foot gallery at the site, with the help of architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown.
The building, which was conceptualized with many delays between 1988 and 1997, eventually didn’t happen — we all know where it is now. Despite its small size — four stories high above ground with two additional below-grade floors — it was an ambitious design, containing many gallery spaces, a restaurant, classrooms, administrative offices, and a 300-seat underground theater.
A four-story building clearly isn’t the most efficient use of the space, but it’s got its own charm, with a bolder color scheme than most buildings downtown today. I’d like to see more design like this in Austin now — we’re so obsessed with glass curtain walls that nothing feels warm. Still, I can’t complain about more tall buildings. Let’s hope whatever arrives at 308 Guadalupe Street does justice to the ideas we’ve seen already.