Am I the last person on earth to realize that downtown Austin’s SkyHouse apartment tower at 51 Rainey Street has identical twins all over the country?
This may be common knowledge for the extremely cosmopolitan readership of TOWERS Austin, but it’s news to me that the SkyHouse residential brand by Atlanta-based developer Novare Group essentially reuses a design by architects Smallwood, Reynolds, Stewart, Stewart & Associates for each of its buildings, with the only variations being slight differences in color, height (23-26 stories depending on location), and the shape of its rooftop — there appear to be three roof flavors to choose from, if you look at the different buildings in the collage of renderings above, but the design remains fairly consistent beyond that.
The SkyHouse program is the development and design concept of Atlanta developer Jim Borders, President and CEO, Novare Group; Atlanta architect Smallwood, Reynolds, Stewart, Stewart & Associates, Inc. and co-sponsor Batson-Cook Development Company. All 18 SkyHouse projects (current) share this team. The Atlanta-based team partners with local partners in each market. This includes Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Denver, Nashville, Tampa, Orlando, Charlotte and Raleigh in addition to Austin.
— Novare Group
Although it’s already pretty obvious from the outside, I confirmed with Novare that each SkyHouse project shares a common structural and exterior design, with only slight variations in interior layout based on location. In fact, the company often uses the same subcontractors depending on where it’s building — in Houston, they went ahead and built two across the street from each other:
My original fascination with the SkyHouse business model was regarding the cost effectiveness of the reused design — the company’s obviously saving money in at least a couple of places from building its communities this way, but how much? Novare wouldn’t spill most of the beans, but they did tell me this:
By pulling the parking deck out from under the building and creating an efficient, quick-build structure, Novare Group collaborated with architect Smallwood, Reynolds, Stewart, Stewart & Associates, Inc. to produce a building that could be built in 14 to 18 months, at roughly 80 percent of the cost of high-rise podium construction.
— Novare Group
Man, I just love that carefully-worded press release copy. The costs of land assembly and construction are inevitably going to vary by region, and this probably represents the biggest financial variable — but after building 18 of these towers, the other expenses are hopefully somewhat predictable.
Considering the price tag of the SkyHouse Austin project was reportedly $67 million, a 20 percent reduction in construction cost represents millions in savings, and the relatively quick build time probably doesn’t hurt either. I’d imagine that in addition to the benefits Novare mentions above, this business model allows the developer to save money by reusing interior elements, mechanical systems, and marketing assets.
The quote from Novare up there also mentions a parking element — SkyHouse buildings don’t shell out for underground garages or integrated parking podiums, electing instead to simply build an adjacent parking structure from precast concrete. The developers have addressed this at some SkyHouse projects by extending the tower’s ground-floor retail space into the base of the adjacent parking structure, which is the case at the building over on Rainey Street. It’s not necessarily ideal, but it keeps the garage from sucking the life out of an entire city block.
Opponents of development — and other cranks — often accuse new buildings of all looking exactly the same. But even the most pedestrian of structures is typically designed with at least a few unique elements, and that’s what makes the SkyHouse concept so interesting: it’s the only residential brand I can think of that actually builds the same skyscraper over and over again and gets away with it. The folks at Novare couldn’t think of any other developers doing this kind of thing either, so be sure to copy them on any emails you send proving me wrong.
Still, some people don’t take too kindly to the notion of a developer hitting Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V in their cities. When Novare announced the SkyHouse Midtown project in the firm’s native Atlanta, local designer Kyle Benedict hated the look of the proposed tower — which, for what it’s worth, is the exact same as the Austin version — so much that he designed an alternative building for the space from scratch and offered to sell the plans to the developer for either an immediate payment of $75,000, or “$20,000 and a guaranteed rent-free residence in this apartment building in the apartment of my choosing for 10 years.” Pretty sweet deal, man!
Novare, since they aren’t completely out of their minds, elected to ignore Benedict’s stunt, which prompted him to design some new buildings in protest:
Oh, and there’s one last surprise — speaking of shared designs, Novare, in partnership with Andrews Urban, built another tower in downtown Austin before SkyHouse: the 44-story 360 Condos at 360 Nueces Street, which opened in 2008. It’s a prominent building on Austin’s new skyline, but you might want to check out its resemblance to Spire, another residential building Novare developed in Atlanta back in 2005:
The cantilevered balconies, the articulations of the roofline, the glass spire, the colors, even the shape of the windows — the design clearly shares a lineage, though it’s not as identical as the developer’s SkyHouse buildings. Hey, at least we got the taller one!