A couple of weeks ago, the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Culture Center held a community open house to review and provide input on design concepts by CasaBella Architects for the center’s expansion. The firm is engaged to develop a new vision and Master Plan for the MACC, a design effort being touted as “MÁSMACC.”
You can download a pdf of the design presentation here.
Personally, I love the current design of the MACC. Whenever given the opportunity I’m eager to share my belief that the MACC’s facility is the most inspired architecture in all of downtown Austin.
So it’s unfortunate to see a design presented at the open house that threatens the original vision, and tosses aside the inspired “three pyramid” design (see above) to be replaced with what is quite literally a box (see below).
I’m an Irish white dude keenly aware of my limited cultural standing to opine about the Mexican American Cultural Center’s design. Still, I walk the MACC’s grounds on a daily basis with deep admiration for the original structure’s vision. Good design increasingly becomes a critical asset as the city gains more and more “beige box” developments with no sense of place.
Say “no” to the box!
CasaBella has been around and done some stuff. They understand the community input process, but if you attended this open house then you’ll remember the audience held real passion to see the original three-pyramid vision through.
So why would CasaBella abandon the three pyramid design?
CasaBella Architects worked closely with Teodoro González de León on the original design of the Emma Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center. We intend to honor his original design to the greatest extent possible while meeting the evolving needs of the community. We’re still exploring ideas related to the theater and the design ideas unveiled Oct. 7 will be further developed for the next meeting.
We hope the community will provide feedback on the ideas presented and the full presentation and a survey are available through Nov. 17 on our website: https://austintexas.gov/department/emma-s-barrientos-mexican-american-cultural-center-master-plan.
Here is a direct link to the survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/WW5Z5WN
On balance, there are couple of design items presented by CasaBella that would be fantastic for the neighborhood.
The above drawing shows a clear intention to better engage with the existing hike-and-bike trail. Much like the Waller Creek Boathouse has become one of the trail’s top destinations, the MACC should be a primary landmark for its users. Ideas floated in the presentation included a cafe along the southeastern tip of the crescent, a tiered seating area overlooking Lady Bird Lake, and an observation deck.
This vision for a Gran Entrada is also notable, as it will improve the “approach” and circulation of people and cars at the MACC. This piece is attached to 64 Rainey Street, a property the MACC acquired in recent years which is adjacent to the 70 Rainey condo development.
Overall, it’s great to see these new ideas for the MACC, and I hope they deliver on most of them. Downtown Austin needs more ambitious projects with design that’s built-to-last rather than value-engineered.
Just don’t screw up one of our best examples with a big box.
p.s. here’s a bonus for you OGs around way back in 2007: footage of the conceptual Nahua Tower, designed by Bercy Chen Studio, which imagined a striking residential tower where the MACC parking lot is today.