Texas’ most acclaimed architecture studio could soon bring its tallest building yet to one of Austin’s most famous streets. Rising 48 floors and 571 feet at the northeast corner of Rainey and River Streets in the heart of the Rainey Street District, the project currently known as the River Street Residences designed by San Antonio-based architecture firm Lake Flato would transform the fast-growing southern end of the downtown skyline with a tower unlike anything we’ve seen on this side of town.
A current view at the corner of Rainey and River Streets, where the new tower is planned.
We’ve known some broad strokes of the tower plan, currently in the early stages of development by firms River Street Partners and High Street Residential, for more than a year now — but with the presentation of the project to the City of Austin’s Design Commission scheduled later this evening as its builders seek compliance with the city’s Density Bonus Program, we now have our hands on a closer look than ever.
When we first learned details of the development in 2019, the building was planned as a mixed-use hotel and residential tower with a substantial ground-floor retail component. Perhaps owing to the pandemic’s impact on the hospitality industry, the project as shown here eliminates that hotel use, now containing 406,815 square feet of residential space between 409 units. In addition to its residential and amenity space, the building also contains 1,500 square feet of retail space on the ground level.
The renderings seen here provide our best full views of the River Street tower, showing its design from Lake Flato with additional work from Dallas-based firm HKS. Founded in 1984 and now considered one of the top firms in the nation, Lake Flato has received countless design awards for its work throughout Texas and beyond, including Austin’s instantly-iconic new Central Library opened in 2017.
The studio’s goal of designing buildings with a sense of regionalism, which it pursues through the use of local materials and an emphasis on sustainability with respect for a given site’s environmental context, makes for a very interesting-looking tower — especially compared to its other projects, which besides the Central Library aren’t typically anywhere close to this big.
In addition to the location of the project within the urban core, the design incorporates several sustainable strategies to reduce its impact on the environment. This project aims to reduce its energy use through several major design strategies. The building creates a performative building skin by limiting the window-to-wall ratio, incorporating permanent sun-shading elements, and extensive planting. Native plants will be incorporated into the façade design, with irrigation integrated within the overall building systems and structure. Solar panels will also be incorporated, likely in a large array on the roof. An on-site bike storage facility and shower rooms promote the use of alternative transportation.
— River Street Residences Design Commission Presentation
The recent Canopy by Hilton hotel development rising 28 floors along the River Walk in downtown San Antonio is the only Lake Flato-designed building that even comes close in terms of height, but the River Street tower will still be the studio’s biggest design by far — and if built, the project will be a fascinating opportunity to see how the firm’s inspirations translate to a more monumental structure. The design presentation prepared by the architects for the Design Commission meeting later today indicates the concept’s three major goals as follows:
1. VERTICAL PROGRAM: Create a dynamic podium with vertically-integrated program so that the street experience is active, inviting, and native to Austin as well as the Rainey district.
2. BUILDING ECOLOGY: Celebrate nature and community with immersive vegetation and ample views to the lake at all shared spaces.
3. CONNECTION TO PLACE: Design a building that speaks with its context by architecturally responding to the site’s stunning views of the lake and downtown.
— River Street Residences Design Commission Presentation
The tower as shown will occupy an assembly of adjacent tracts including 61 Rainey Street, 69 Rainey Street, and 60 East Avenue — meaning the project will necessitate the removal of longtime Rainey Street bars Javelina and Craft Pride. We’ve heard rumors dating back to before the outbreak of the coronavirus that Craft Pride will continue to operate in some capacity, and it’s possible the bar could even take a spot in the new building’s retail lineup, but nothing’s set in stone at the moment considering the extraordinary circumstances currently facing the service industry.
The project’s ground floor features a double-height retail and lobby space, with its 1,500 square feet of retail facing the corner — as explained in the building’s presentation documents for the Design Commission, the tower seeks to provide an active street-level experience respecting the existing context of Rainey Street as a bustling pedestrian environment and entertainment district.
One of the more interesting design elements of the tower, due to its location atop tracts on both Rainey Street and East Avenue, is its position straddling the currently unpaved alley running between those two streets — we’ve been waiting for the improvement of this alley for a while, considering that its paving is necessary for access to the Cambria Hotel planned slightly north of the River Street site, but we weren’t expecting that plan to involve a tunnel through a building.
Looking north up the currently-unpaved alley between Rainey Street and East Avenue, from the same perspective as the rendering seen above.
Despite the obvious uncertainties of the pandemic economy, it’s worth noting that one of the project’s partnered developers, High Street Residential, is a fully-owned subsidiary of deep-pocketed Dallas real estate giants Trammell Crow Company — a firm that tends to follow up on its plans, if you catch our drift.
Judging by this project’s rapid shift from a hotel and residential development to residences alone, it’s clearly not the best time in history to build a tower, but at this point of the crisis we’re happy to see any sign that things haven’t fully ground to a halt locally in terms of new plans making progress. There’s no groundbreaking scheduled for the building at this early stage, but we’ll look forward to finding out more at tonight’s Design Commission meeting — and telling you people all about it, of course.