Earlier this year, we looked back fondly on the history of downtown Austin’s Chase Tower, which sported a glowing golden exterior from its construction in 1974, until a remodel in 1994 gave it the rather drab look we have a hard time remembering today.
Austin old-timers recall this tower with varying degrees of fondness or hate, and it’s not like there weren’t some valid arguments for losing the gold at the time — some folks said its glare at sunset blinded drivers, or perhaps pilots; not to mention that its reflections may or may not have been heating up all the buildings around it — but I’ve made no bones about how much I liked the look of the so-called “golden mirror.”
Barring a few notable exceptions, the color of downtown Austin’s skyline is locked in a struggle between brown and blue — the older buildings from the original 1980s development boom lean brown, the towers built in the first decade of the new millennium tend to combine lighter shades of brown and beige with blue, and most of our recent constructions and upcoming projects are just plain blue. There’s nothing particularly wrong with blue, mind you — it’s better than beige! — but I think we still deserve better. In other words, 2019, with all its promise and uncertainty, should be the year downtown Austin gets another gold building.
“But wait,” you say, poised to destroy my argument with one weird trick, “We got rid of the gold because of the glare! And it wasn’t energy-efficient!” And though that’s probably true, the actual reasons for the resurfacing of the golden mirror are lost to time, and I don’t think we should simply accept the technical limitations of 1974-era materials science as a valid argument against a gold building today.
Smart people have figured out how to do this in the modern era without completely melting people’s eyeballs or setting surrounding buildings on fire, seemingly by using low-reflectivity metallic coatings on their glass or through other design features that reduce glare, such as glass-free cladding and unique facades. Even with these challenges, there are gold skyscrapers all over the world, many of them built within the last few years. And they rule. Let’s look at a few:
Moscow’s Mercury City Tower, though perhaps more copper than gold, is one of the more iconic metallic buildings of the last decade.
Still, I’m not naive enough to think there aren’t some obstacles to a new golden-hued tower in Austin — the biggest, perhaps, found in the minds of the public. Though they’re popular in other countries, Americans seem to consider gold buildings tacky, only begrudgingly accepting them somewhere like the Las Vegas strip where taste has already been mostly abolished in favor of ostentatious displays of wealth — the Trump International Hotel is a good example of what most people probably imagine when they hear me gab about this.
Keeping that in mind, my proposal is modest — we’ve got to trick people. Don’t just call it a “gold” building, call it a “metallic” building, and you’ll suddenly find all the support you need. From fashion to consumer products, rose gold has remained the thing for several years now, and though it’s not quite the same gold as the Bank One tower’s old look, I’d take it over another blue building any day. Seriously, folks, let’s make 2019 the year. It’s time we brought back gold. Why the hell not?
Header image caption: A vintage view of the Bank One — now Chase Bank — tower back when it sported its “golden mirror exterior,” likely taken in the late 1980s or early 1990s. Image courtesy of Kevin Lehnhardt / Photo by John Elk III.