The Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center (
A second phase of the MACC’s development has waited in the wings since the structure reached its current size in 2010, and after years of conversation and community engagement, we’ve finally got our first look at what’s in store for the center’s next phase from the design partnership of local firm Miró Rivera and acclaimed Mexican architect Tatiana Bilbao working on behalf of the Parks and Recreation Department.
With the project scheduled for review with the city’s Design Commission at its meeting later this month, we now have our hands on several major new features of the expansion plan — and though we likely won’t know the finer points of those features until the meeting, we might as well take a peek at the slides now:
MACC Phase 2 would roughly double the size of the facility, extending the north and south wings on either side of the crescent-shaped structure with a number of new educational and gallery spaces along with a “teaching kitchen” — but the most visible modification of the plan is a change in grade creating a retaining wall around the site’s outdoor plaza space, known by the Spanish word zócalo meaning “public square.”
This landscaping work could create a new “lake level” facing a new event lawn against the Hike-and-Bike Trail and shoreline below the zócalo, essentially carving out a whole new floor adding extra space for the facility while controlling access to its main outdoor space for events. It’s hard to explain, but the illustrations below do the job:
In order to meet the requirements of the program, the Project Team has proposed the creation of a lower level (lake level) that connects the ends of the semicircle underneath the zocalo, while simultaneously providing a means of controlling and securing the zocalo in accordance with the MACC’s operational needs.
— MACC Phase 2 Plan, Project Review Application
This is obviously a major change, leaving the head of its “snake path” art piece and walkway literally floating in the air as an observation platform. Stairwells at either end of the zócalo will still allow pedestrian access to the interior plaza from the Hike-and-Bike Trail, with the new semi-underground interior of the “lake level” containing a new black box theater and gallery space.
The design offers an innovative solution to one of the MACC’s most challenging problems: creating a welcoming gathering space in the central zocalo while providing the opportunity to control access to the space for large, ticketed events. Currently, whenever the MACC hosts a large event (i.e. Austin Jazz Festival or Dia de los Muertos), temporary fencing is erected around the zocalo. This solution is unsightly and unwelcoming. The addition of the lower/lake level will provide vertical separate between the zocalo and the rest of the site, thereby enabling access to be controlled via permanent gates that will be designed in concert with the architecture. This design also minimizes the need for fences or walls around the site.
— MACC Phase 2 Plan, Project Review Application
Though it’s a pretty long list, other notable site improvements listed here include a widened stretch of the Hike-and-Bike Trail with additional lighting — the 700-foot section of the trail crossing though the site has been previously described as “severely lacking” in these areas. The plan also describes the transformation of that small scrap of unpaved land between River Street and the 70 Rainey condo tower into a “welcome garden” that will likely make the facility more visible from Rainey Street itself:
It’s a lot to take in, and we’re expecting more details from the actual presentation, but we’re already curious to hear from our readers about the design seen here so far. It’s a bold choice to essentially cut the zócalo space off from the surrounding area by changing its elevation, even though the stairwells on either side should alleviate this somewhat — it remains to be seen, however, whether they will be open at all hours and how directly accessible the space is to wheelchairs.
The renderings included in this presentation are a bit impressionistic, so it’s unclear precisely how the new wings are going to look, but here they’re shown in green. It’s a pleasant color, but detracts a bit from the original stark white crescent design of the MACC building. Previous concepts for the expansion also showed some added shades, but the difference between old and new sections didn’t look quite so drastic back then — the choice of color is perhaps an intentional effort to stand apart from the work of previous architects at this site while respecting the integrity of the original form.
In any case, we’ll look forward to hearing more about precisely what’s in store here later this month — and based on the project’s current schedule, construction on the expansion could start as soon as this fall, with a targeted completion date in 2024.
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