Built:
1984
Alterations:
2018
Architect:
Morris Aubry Architects (1983); RIOS (2018)
Style:
Postmodern with modifications

Description

Rising 400 feet, this 32-story postmodern skyscraper was the tallest building in Austin for almost 20 years. Occupying nearly a full city block, 600 Congress contains over half a million square feet of office space and boasts 13 outdoor terraces and balconies. Clad in precast limestone, pink and brown granite, and bronze glass, the tripartite tower is notable for its segmented façade, rhythmic windows, and stepped massing.

Placemaking

600 Congress represents the peak of the 1980s postmodern skyscraper boom that defined Austin’s skyline for two decades. Replacing a string of low-rise commercial storefronts, including an Art Deco-style department store, the building raised eyebrows at the time for its size, materiality, and flamboyant style.

Like its peers at #100, #111, and #301, this stepped skyscraper exemplifies the postmodern (literally “after modern”) style, which reached its zenith in the 1980s as a reaction to the perceived lack of variety and ornamentation of modernism. Compare this edifice to 515 Congress (catty-corner at 6th and Congress), which was completed less than a decade earlier. In contrast to that dark monolith, the architecture of 600 Congress is varied, decorative, and even a little kitschy. Wrapped in an unbroken pattern of bronze-tinted windows, the mass of the tower steps down in multiple directions like some sort of 20th-century ziggurat.

The tower is connected to a low-rise base by a glass atrium that runs the length of the building. At the center of the façade, an arched entrance features pink granite columns and flashy brass accents below a tiered arrangement of skylights. Notice how the façade of the base is broken up into five distinct sections, approximating the width of the historic Early Commercial storefronts along Congress. If you walk to the north end of the block, you’ll find one such storefront: the Sampson Building at #620. The height of the base and windows at 600 Congress align precisely with this historic edifice; it’s a visual conversation between old and new.

Inside, you’ll find a soaring five-story atrium illuminated by arched skylights and a series of suspended halos. This space was once a much gaudier affair; a 1986 critique in Newsweek described the atrium as “a jumble of columns, gold deco lamps, and a two-story fountain that cascades down a massive set of granite steps.” The atrium was renovated in 2018 with a focus on updating the material palette and improving both sightlines and circulation. Backlit acrylic panels and perforated stainless steel introduce a contemporary aesthetic, while wood paneling and leather upholstery add some Texan warmth. Surrounded by flexible workspaces, a concrete social stair with leather benches occupies the center of the atrium, connecting the lobby with the level below. – Bud Franck, RA

Photo Credits:

Casey Dunn, Bud Franck, Patrick Wong