One of the country’s largest architecture and design companies, the St. Louis-based HOK Group Inc., announced plans for a new Austin-based office earlier this week — and as part of that news, this new branch of the studio also gave us a look at its latest local project, the second phase of the Capitol Complex project by the Texas Facilities Commission that’s set to transform even more of the state office environment north of the Capitol with new buildings, significant pedestrian improvements, and what we would professionally refer to as a “whole mess” of underground parking. Since the first phase of the project seems to be rounding the corner, here’s what’s next.
The second phase of the project will bring two new state office buildings to the complex containing approximately 525,000 total square feet of space — but the important news for the folks on the ground is the plan’s efforts to extend the Capitol Complex’s pedestrian mall one more all-important block, from 16th to 15th Street, completing the outdoor plaza stretching through the complex all the way to MLK Jr. Boulevard. If you’re not working at one of the shiny new offices, that pedestrian mall is the project’s big-ticket showcase improvement, making the area north of the Capitol grounds an actual place one might feasibly visit or voluntarily enjoy, the realization of an urban planning dream dating back all the way to the 1940s.
In the rendering above, we’re looking at the northeast corner of West 15th and Lavaca Streets, where a new state office structure is set to replace the Capitol Complex Child Care Center and a large surface parking lot — here’s the same view today:
The second structure in the second phase of the complex will replace the Texas DPS district office located at the northwest corner of West 15th Street and Congress Avenue, which is also just west of that last leg of the pedestrian mall down this part of Congress — that’s what you’re seeing in the foreground of the rendering below:
And here’s a current view just in case you don’t have this fairly lifeless part of downtown fully committed to memory:
That’s all well and good, but one of the big additions to the complex in this next phase is what you can’t see in the renderings — the extension of the project’s honkin’ big underground parking structure, which will follow the path of the pedestrian mall and expand underneath the footprints of the new buildings to add space for 2,550 cars. We’ve noted before that this massive consolidation of parking should allow the state to demolish some of its above-ground garages in this area and replace them with buildings, but it’s still kind of an eye-popping number — especially since a lot of state employees seem to be working remotely these days, but perhaps not forever.
Even with its parking-heavy design, the state-sponsored urbanism of the Capitol Complex is a step in the right direction, but it’s unclear at the moment exactly how the TFC plans to activate or program the new public space created by the pedestrian mall. There’s a lot of potential to make this a downtown hotspot along the lines of the new Waterloo Park, but that requires a slightly different skillset than we’ve come to expect from the State of Texas. Still, almost any effort to make this part of town more interesting is good news to us — drop by outside of state employee work hours and you’ll practically see tumbleweeds rolling around. In any case, the second phase of the Capitol Complex is on track for completion by 2025.