As Austin’s inevitable growth chugs along, one of the more interesting side effects of the city’s sky-high land values is a need for clever, compact architecture, in order to maximize the value of small and challenging pieces of property. These are scraps of land you wouldn’t necessarily, as a developer, choose to build upon if you had more choices — but it’s Austin, so you often don’t.
My favorite example of this phenomenon for a while was the planned 32-story apartment tower on East Avenue designed by Rhode Partners, which must contend with a small .36 acre site that also exists inside a floodplain, has only one available curb cut for a driveway, and is surrounded by parkland that can’t be developed. Adversity drives creativity, so I’m excited to see that building take shape, but I think I’ve got a new favorite tough nut to crack — the upcoming mixed-use apartment project at 1212 East Seventh Street:
Designed by local firm Mark Hart Architecture, which is perhaps better known for its student housing projects in West Campus, this 5-story development finesses seven apartment units and a ground floor commercial space into a 0.146-acre plot comprised of addresses 1210 and 1212 East Seventh Street.
You can already tell it’s kind of a weird space from the street — the property is a long, skinny piece of land bordered by office buildings on either side, with the elevation change of the area making the lot inaccessible to drivers from East Seventh Street.
Instead, access to any garage component must use the alley behind the site on its north end. That’s what this project does, using its second floor entirely for parking, with the seven apartment units spread out between the three floors above that.
I said this building is five stories tall earlier, which is true from East Seventh Street. But technically, due to the change in grade on the site, the ground floor is described in the building’s plan as a basement, with only four stories rising above that. If you’re looking at it from the alley side, the parking garage is actually the ground floor. It’s easier to understand if you just look at the plans.
Another detail of this project I find unique for the area is its unit mix: five two-bedroom units and two three-bedroom units. Higher bedroom counts are notable in areas like East Austin where you tend to see more studios and lower bedroom counts overall.
Mark Hart, principal at the firm that bears his name, told me he’s not sure what the future holds for the building’s ground floor commercial space. He’s not ruling out a retail presence at the site, which would be great for the area’s mixed-use growth, but considering the relative lack of foot traffic in the area there’s a good chance the space will become offices of some kind. Still, it’s better than nothing, ain’t it?
Part of the reason I’m interested in this development is its attempt to fit a decent amount of apartment units into a location that wouldn’t necessarily require it. This isn’t just speculation — a previous plan for the site would have seen only two three-story condos built at these addresses:
I’m sure the comparatively massive square footages of these two residences would have been great for their buyers, but I’m always going to pull for infill projects with higher unit counts. The only hidden agenda I’m sneaking into these articles is in favor of denser, smarter, and taller development in the city — and this building appears to hit the high notes.