It hasn’t been a particularly easy road for the developers of a potential tower addition to the Royal Arch Masonic Lodge, a historic 1926 three-story brick building currently standing at the corner of West Seventh and Lavaca Streets in downtown Austin. The city’s Historic Landmark Commission has now postponed its vote on a certificate of appropriateness for the project three times, the latest delay arriving at its meeting earlier this week and pushing the decision until October.
Despite the full-throated support of the Masons that actually own the property, the new project’s builders Stone Development Partners, structural engineers at DCI, and local architecture outfits Rhode Partners and Clayton & Little aren’t out of the woods just yet. Some commissioners aren’t big fans of this addition, with its modern 40-story-ish hotel or possibly residential tower with a historic building as a base labeled a “desecration” by one member — and after watching the latest meeting, it seems like the new structure is just too tall for their tastes, and no design will really change that.
But hey, on the bright side — the design tweaks to the building by Rhode Partners, based on input from the commission and intended to create a larger divide between the historic and modern structures, have actually given us a tower that looks potentially way more interesting, at least in our deeply respected opinions.
The original design, as seen in the image above, was sort of a baby version of Rhode Partners’ Independent project (better known as the “Jenga Tower,” of course), with a couple of cantilevered sections sticking out of the overall mass.
The updated version, on the other hand, is absolutely doing its own thing, and looks basically nothing like any other downtown high-rise around here:
The diagonal beams seen in the rendering above, which help distinguish and gradually separate the new building from the old, are super-duper neat — and reminiscent of the exposed structural elements often found in a design style known as high-tech architecture. By the way, here’s a nice example of high-tech architecture:
It’s also worth noting that without the cantilevered sections sticking out like they did in the Royal Arch tower’s first design, you don’t get the cool balcony slash patio spaces on top of them, but it’s a price we’ll happily pay for a more inspired or unique look. Though the white exterior seen in the latest rendering might not be set in stone, the Historic Landmark Commission did suggest lightening the structure’s appearance:
Specifically, new changes include lightening the appearance of the tower, setting the tower back through the use of a more narrow portion atop the historic base, and a plan to install interior structural bracing to help protect the original building during construction and beyond. “The idea, of course, is to lessen the presence of the tower to the person on the street,” Rhode said, so that the historic building shines.
The previous design wasn’t terrible, but this is a step up in every way for us, especially since it’s not just another blue glass building. Build it already!
Despite its challenges on the dais, the project has the support of the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association’s board of directors, which released a statement last week essentially saying they’re pleased as punch, and then some:
We are more than pleased that with this development, generations of Austinites to come will continue to be able to enjoy this beautiful building downtown, reconfigured to keep one foot in the past, with the existing Masonic Lodge building, and one foot in the future, with a modern skyscraper of roughly 40 stories above it.
We are pleased that the development team has employed architects knowledgeable in historic preservation and restoration. These architects have done considerable research on how best to bring this style of historic preservation, popular throughout the world, to Austin. Additionally, we are very excited that the funds from the new development will allow the Masons to continue to be part of our downtown community.
This type of development is exactly what is needed downtown. Although this portion of downtown is already dense with buildings, many of those buildings contain more space for cars than for people. This development does not bring any additional parking to the area, which will go a long way toward encouraging more ground floor activated developments nearby and helping make the area more pedestrian-friendly.
— Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association, September 22
We’ll have to wait and see, once more, if the Historic Landmark Commission gets on board with the project’s new look — for all we know, this tower’s gonna come back with another tweaked design next month. The things we do for love.