It’s not often that a building breaks ground in downtown Austin without us knowing the details — we’re not bragging, that’s literally our job and spending all our time downtown makes it hard to miss. But as construction fences started rising at the 15-story Shoal Creek Walk office tower site at 835 West Sixth Street sitting just east of the flagship Whole Foods Market store and corporate headquarters on the west end of downtown, we realized that while we knew the basics of what was being built there thanks to coverage in the Austin Business Journal from both this summer and all the way back in 2017, we had no clue how the new building would actually look.
This second-phase addition, which city filings indicate is being developed at least in part by Endeavor Real Estate Group on behalf of Whole Foods, will add a new five-story office building and seven-level parking structure to the existing Shoal Creek Walk tower complex that will serve as expansion space for the Whole Foods corporate offices next door, adding 143,800 square feet of office space and 127,104 square feet of garage parking for the now Amazon-owned grocer — and thanks to the ABJ’s extensive coverage of this project, the fact that we’d never actually seen a rendering or even a drawing of the new building’s appearance from its architects at Gensler Austin completely slipped our minds. Whoops! Anyway, here it is:
The project, described using the name Whole Foods Market East Block Office, will fill out the remaining space of the Shoal Creek Walk property that’s bound on its east end by, well, Shoal Creek. Since the original building was developed with an eventual second phase in mind, the unbuilt space around the existing tower has always looked a little weird — a giant field of concrete, described in some spots by our readers as a “moonscape,” sitting atop a subterranean parking garage; not to mention a truly baffling “skybridge to nowhere” connecting the Whole Foods building across Bowie Street to basically a naked stairwell on the Shoal Creek Walk property.
A street view looking north from the West Fifth Street bridge at the Shoal Creek Walk site, from a vaguely similar angle as the rendering seen above — seeing both helps put the building in context.
All of these strange features make perfect sense in the context of a second structure, especially with the illustrations seen here to help us along — the new building and its parking garage will sit on top of the big slab of concrete and wrap around the existing tower, while that skybridge will, at long last, actually connect to something.
Technical details aside, we are struck by this new building’s appearance to a degree we didn’t expect. Though we appreciate the greater height and enjoyably jaunty windows of the original Shoal Creek Walk tower by its designers at Nelsen Partners, it’s otherwise a fairly straightforward-looking modern building, and we thought another phase of development here would end up looking roughly the same. Instead, courtesy of Gensler Austin we’ve received a design that seems rather architecturally interesting — as a compliment to the existing Shoal Creek Walk and Whole Foods buildings, the addition ties a surprisingly pleasant bow around the whole complex.
You’ll notice there’s hardly a right angle in sight on the East Block addition, in keeping with Gensler’s ongoing attraction to curved forms, and though we don’t know precisely which materials are put to use here, those exterior roof overhangs on each floor — technically known as soffits — appear to be clad in wood or perhaps weathering steel, providing a natural texture befitting its clients. It takes effort to get us excited about a building that’s neither tall nor particularly useful to folks who don’t work there — it doesn’t seem to be amenitized with publicly-accessible retail on the ground level — but this project’s managed to pull it off simply by looking really good.
Other firms involved with this development include engineering companies Bay & Associates and Brockette Davis Drake; general contractors DPR Construction, and landscape architects TBG Partners. The involvement of Schlosser Development Corporation, which built the original Shoal Creek Walk tower in 2017 and currently owns the property, is unclear for the moment. In any case, work’s already started at the site, and construction documents indicate a possible completion date by the end of 2021. Isn’t it wild how much you learn when you pay attention?