Block 185, the downtown Austin office tower project best known as the future home of Google, has made significant progress since its groundbreaking back in the downright prehistoric era of 2019 — and though it hasn’t reached its full height of 594 feet just yet, the 35-floor building’s ever-growing prominence on the downtown skyline is becoming increasingly difficult to overlook.
We’ve seen the arrival of a fairly shocking number of tower plans since Block 185’s first appearance several years ago, many of which are significantly taller, but in terms of a so-called “signature tower” it’s still hard to find any competition with this sail-shaped work of art now emerging at 601 West Second Street on behalf of its developers at Trammell Crow Company.
Block 185 is also significant as one of the final projects designed by acclaimed firm Pelli Clarke Pelli (along with help from the locals at STG Design) before the July 2019 death of its founder, the Argentinian-American “starchitect” César Pelli — and once it’s complete, the building will arguably be downtown’s most nationally prominent work of tower architecture based on name recognition alone. Pelli and his firm have designed some of the tallest structures in the world, including the unforgettable twin Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur that held the world height record from 1998 to 2004 at 1,483 feet, along with the more recent 1,070-foot Salesforce Tower in San Francisco.
Pelli’s body of work evolved significantly over the course of his nearly 60-year career, but Block 185’s sweeping sail-shaped design embodies common principles of his later towers, namely the manipulation of exterior glass facades to reduce the prominence of sharp corners and create buildings that look, for lack of a better word, smooth.
In his later years, working with Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, Pelli pursued not just tall buildings, but incredibly smooth ones, too . . . sweeping, glass-and-mullion-wrapped forms, shimmer amid their surroundings, dematerializing through a subtle gradient of rounded edges, slight relief, and structural repetition against sun-kissed backdrops. The buildings embody high points of both of facade design and skyscraper style.
Pelli’s designs for Salesforce Tower and the Landmark in Abu Dhabi both share these elements with the shorter Block 185, but the most striking companion to our tower in Pelli’s recent portfolio is the One Congress office tower now under construction in Boston, which will rise 600 feet — or 6 feet higher than Block 185 — and looks like our tower’s long-lost cousin when you compare both side-by-side:
Pelli’s so-called glass skin architecture treats the facades of these towers as distinct art objects, unconstrained in their ability to shape a building’s exterior profile by the basic form of the structure beneath — as you can see in both buildings above, the peak of each facade rises past the occupied levels of the tower to instead become its crown, growing into something more than simply a wall in the process.
“[Pelli] wanted to play with the skin of the building. He wanted buildings to ‘celebrate the joy of their own skin’.”
— Daniel Paul, Architectural Historian
Now that Block 185 is starting to make its mark in the real world, we’re beginning to understand just how significant an influence the Google “sail” will have on Austin’s skyline from the south, particularly from across the river. For a pulled-back view of the tower’s progress, check out the live construction webcam below from the Loren hotel and condo project now underway on the south shore of Lady Bird Lake — from here, you can see the building in context with its neighbors, only further demonstrating how its profile will impact the skyline. For tower fans, it couldn’t be a better view.