Though the concept of office buildings in general is taking a light beating in recent months, a 41-floor office and retail project by developer Ryan Companies is moving forward after securing a Density Bonus recommendation earlier this week from the City of Austin’s Design Commission. That’s good news for people who like interesting buildings, because the Gensler Austin-designed Tower 5C — a name denoting its location at the southeast corner of West Fifth and Colorado Streets — is a tower different in appearance from anything we’ve seen going up downtown lately.
The future home of Tower 5C at the corner of West Fifth and Colorado Streets.
For one thing, its footprint is that of a squircle — a square with curved corners, if you don’t want to use that awkward word — with those curves traveling up the building all the way to its tapered crown. There’s barely a right angle to be found here, giving the tower the feel of a high-end consumer electronics product, something designed by Apple in California or maybe a fancy Sonos speaker. (Or, like, an alien spacecraft.)
The building, which will bring 465,900 square feet of office space downtown, still contains a large parking podium — but like Gensler’s 500 West Second Street project, it’s not obviously visually separated from the occupied section of the tower, clad in the same striking dark gray glass curtain walls and sporting the same curves as the rest. It’s an unfortunate design trend, or perhaps more accurately an unfortunate code-driven design trend, that so many new towers seem to start with a bland parking structure as a base, then design something interesting on top of it — rather than treating the structure as a single, visually cohesive design product.
This isn’t really the fault of the architects, but rather the developers willing to pay extra for a tower that either excavates its parking or does something genuinely interesting with the podium — so let’s do some golf claps for Ryan Companies and its equity partner PGIM for going the extra mile with 5C, I suppose. It clearly pays off here.
But more important to us and the Design Commission is how the project works for people, and Gensler Austin project designer George Blume provided a good overview of what’s in store at the Commission’s meeting Monday night. 5C is what’s known as a side-core building, meaning its elevator shafts, stairwells, and other mechanicals are all pushed to the southern end of the tower — most skyscrapers are designed around a central core, meaning a side-core design maximizes uninterrupted square footage on each floor and allows for a “more open and collaborative workspace,” per Blume.
This core location also gives us a lot of open space on the ground floor, and this is where 5C contains 2,332 square feet of retail space, split between “Retail A” and “Retail B” spaces, along with its lobby. The “Retail A” space is tiny — Blume explains it’s roughly the same size as the original Jo’s Coffee on South Congress Avenue — and is designed as a grab-and-go establishment allowing informal dining in the adjacent lobby with additional seating spilling out onto the patio-style space designed by local landscape architects TBG Partners at the corner of West Fifth and Colorado Streets.
Blume says Gensler recognizes the importance of this corner as one of the city’s most active, and the tower’s design placing all the unsightly bits at the opposite ends from the corner — along with only one curb cut for garage access — allows for more activation than usual along the West Fifth and Colorado Street frontages, with the larger “Retail B” space also suitable for a restaurant and outdoor dining. Another fun detail here is a seperate “Bike Lobby” entrance off Colorado Street, which contains a private elevator up to a secure bike storage space for commuting office workers — don’t worry, the building also contains showers.
This project, along with Ryan Companies’ pleasingly narrow residential building planned across town, could reportedly break ground by January 2021. We hope that’s the case, because Tower 5C points to an interesting future if Austin keeps putting up towers — it’s nice to see some curves on these things every now and then.