A bold new federal courthouse is set to rise on the same prime downtown site that Intel abandoned earlier in the decade. With a recent groundbreaking, the project will be constructed on the Western edge of Republic Square Park.
During the tough years of the tech bust, the City lobbied hard for the GSA (Government Services Administration) to build on the Intel site to eliminate a very public eyesore. At this time, there was very little downtown development and few takers for downtown lots. During the peak of the boom, the City changed its mind, lobbying the GSA this time to build on another site and to once again free a very important and valuable piece of downtown real estate.
Federal courthouses come with a few problems. First, they are single-purpose buildings. This means that they do not contain retail, do not engage the street, and are absolutely dead at night and on weekends. In the rapidly expanding second street district, the courthouse will inevitably break the pedestrian-friendly grid. The second big issue is that security requirements will require the City to close the street between the courthouse and Republic park, interrupting the flow of traffic downtown.
The courthouse brings one advantage: bold architecture. Today, Austin is relatively weak when in comes to bold modern architecture. There is city hall and . . . . well . . . .that’s about it. Like it or not, the bold brutalist monolithic courthouse soon to rise is adventurous architecture. It will be a strong presence downtown and will add character to an area filled with generic buildings. Over the last few years, the GSA has won praise for investing in innovative architecture, something the government is not expected to do.
Here are the renderings of the project as designed by Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects:
For architecture fans, here is the project description from Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects: