Updates to the site plan for the Block 32 tower project now working its way through the city’s permitting process offer us a closer look at the two towers set to rise atop a half-block at East Third and San Jacinto Streets in downtown Austin — and although our city is pretty spoiled for impressive new buildings lately, these plans show a pair of towers with a design that should prove remarkable on the skyline. We now know the developer behind the project is Austin’s own Manifold Real Estate, which has quite a few projects cooking at the moment, though Block 32 could become the largest yet.
The two towers would rise at the half-block bound by San Jacinto Boulevard, East Third, East Fourth, and Trinity Streets directly west of the Austin Convention Center, a site currently occupied by the warehouse-style building containing Vince Young Steakhouse, alongside Thomas Printworks and the Sunset Room event venue — all of these will need to be demolished to make way for this project, a proposition that caused some controversy at first.
The towers are planned across two phases, but will rise from a shared eight-story parking podium spanning the full half-block, which also includes an extra three underground garage levels. The first-phase tower, rising 42 floors and seen below on the right, will contain 340 multifamily residences alongside 20,000 square feet of retail space between its ground floor and a ninth-floor amenity level. The second-phase tower, rising higher than its neighbor at 55 floors total and seen below on the left, is set to contain another 340 multifamily units along with a 276-key hotel and 28,000 additional square feet of retail split between its ground level, a ninth-floor hotel amenity level, and a second residential amenity level at the 22nd floor. Between both towers, the full complex will contain 882,705 square feet.
While we can’t judge every detail based on this black and white drawing of the complex, its architects at Rhode Partners — the local firm known for other area towers including the Independent condos — appear to have designed the two towers with extremely on-trend curved facades, alongside sections of exposed framing on the exterior giving the buildings a high-tech look.
It’s unclear if this element serves any real structural purpose alongside the support of the tower’s interior core, but it’s reminiscent of Rhode’s past work with exposed tension rods at the Independent, not to mention a slight influence carried over from the firm’s (sadly unbuilt) design for a tower above the Royal Arch Masonic Lodge elsewhere downtown. The plan also has some superficial similarities to a proposal marketed by Manifold last year for a potential two-tower development spanning both sides of West Avenue — but maybe that’s just a coincidence.
One thing we’re a little concerned about based on this admittedly simplistic elevation is the monolithic nature of the complex’s parking podium, which seems to rise a sheer eight floors without much articulation. The uneven vertical lines seen on the architectural drawing could imply some sort of lighting system, or at least the use of some interesting colors or materials — after all, that’s what you’re going to see while standing on the ground, which is where you are most of the time. We hope the first real 3D renderings of this complex show off what’s going on with the exterior of the project’s podium in a bit more detail — we’ve been fans of Manifold’s designs downtown so far, and we would really like to avoid another Fairmont Austin situation.