Between the Seaholm Waterfront, Walter E. Long Park, and Austin Energy’s new downtown substation, it feels like we’re smack in the middle of master plan season. Next up on the list is Brush Square, one of downtown’s three remaining historic public squares — the other two are Republic Square and Wooldridge Square, also in varying stages of improvement themselves.
The City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department, along with urban planning firm Asakura Robinson, hosted the second community engagement event for Brush Square’s redevelopment master plan last weekend, and it’s the first time we’ve seen potential concepts for the park in detail.
Since there’s currently a fire station operating on the northwest corner of the site, these designs must all integrate the parking lot for that facility — but each plan also includes a “Phase 2” design that, in the fairly likely event of the fire station moving to another location sometime in the future, would reclaim that parking lot for additional park amenities.
The fire station building itself isn’t going anywhere, however — built in 1938, it’s a beautiful example of Streamline Moderne, a 1930s architectural style considered a subcategory of Art Deco. Needless to say, it’s historic, but the building could easily be repurposed to serve the park as a museum or event space. The Austin Fire Museum already operates out of the building, and the O. Henry and Susanna Dickinson Museums also at the site aren’t relocated in any of these concepts.
Here’s a look at each of the master plan’s design options in detail:
Concept One: “Four Lawns”
This first configuration emphasizes open green space with larger lawn areas and a small shaded deck on the park’s eastern edge. In its Phase 2 configuration, the parking lot is removed entirely, with an additional deck added to the back of the fire station building and the main event lawn extended into the reclaimed space to become a “festival lawn.” The O. Henry and Susanna Dickinson Museums in the northeast quadrant of the square, along with the Austin Fire Museum located in part of the fire station building, all receive their own lawn areas.
Concept Two: “Three Rooms”
This concept’s central lawn is smaller to make room for a larger shaded deck on the eastern end of the square. It’s not too different from the first concept until it hits its potential Phase 2 configuration, where the parking lot and non-historic annex structure attached to the back of the original fire station building are both removed to make room for a larger event lawn and games area. The two museums on site also receive a plaza space to enhance their connectivity within the park.
Concept Three: “Water Walk”
When you’ve got three design options, the third is usually the wildcard — that’s the case here, with a radically different and more organic configuration than the previous two designs. The central bean-shaped lawn compliments a “water wall” feature, along with a shaded natural area beneath the heritage trees on the east end of the square. The removal of the parking lot in Phase 2 would allow for an additional plaza and elevated “hilltop forest” area.
I like this design the best, as it seems to compliment what the Waller Creek Conservancy is up to over at Waterloo Park — plus, the curves and natural emphasis make the space seem more relaxing than the other two concepts, though they would all be a huge improvement to what’s there now. It’s also worth noting that all three of these designs integrate seamlessly with the large plaza area planned as part of the MetroRail downtown station upgrade.
Anyway, the parks department should have a public engagement survey available soon so we can vote on these designs. The major issue we’ll have to confront, even more so than agreeing on which design concept to run with, is how we’re going to pay for it — the funding mechanisms, probable cost, and operations considerations for the location are still being hashed out.
Still, the project will likely arrive for consideration with the city’s boards and council by the end of the year, so we might get an answer on that soon enough. For now, just fill out this survey on which of these concepts you like best.