- Antoine Predock & Cotera+Reed Architects
- Hensel Phelps
- McKinney Kelley Landscape Architects
Austin City Hall is a four-story municipal government building that contains the city council chambers, council member offices, and several city departments as well as retail space and a community gallery. The 115,000-square-foot structure sits atop a below-grade 750-spot parking garage.
It’s telling that when Austin City Hall opened, City Council had been operating out of rented digs for 30 years. The Texas State Capitol still dominated the horizon, and low-key Austinites were skeptical of constructing another monumental edifice. The city was reeling from the dot-com bust, which led tech giant Intel to pull the plug on a towering headquarters a few blocks away. That tower’s unfinished concrete pillars—visible from the new city hall—could be seen as a cautionary tale.
For a city that has long eschewed formality, this angular, low-lying structure fits the bill well. Many city halls are characterized by soaring spires and imposing colonnades, but Austin’s civic heart is notable for its low profile, which reflects the geography of Central Texas. A massive base of rough-cut limestone rises from the underground parking garage, morphing into stepped terraces that evoke local natural limestone overhangs, or balcones. The copper-clad upper stories are arranged at random angles, almost mocking the rigid formality of the adjacent buildings. To the north, 49-foot-long copper spike jutting out over Second Street announces the building’s presence in the city. (It’s known as “the armadillo tail,” “the stinger,” or “that thing sticking out over there.”) To the south, the shaded amphitheater facing Lady Bird Lake is the frequent site of protests, vigils, performances, and other civic gatherings.
The geological theme continues inside, where a four-story atrium cuts through the building like a canyon. Traversed by concrete walkways and illuminated by a soaring wall of glass, the cavernous space is meant to lay bare the inner workings of the city government. This idea is best represented in the city council chambers, where a “protest window” allows demonstrators along Guadalupe Street to make their views known.
It makes sense that a building that embodies the landscape would boast some serious sustainability credentials. The design uses 79% less energy than a comparable building, and what little energy is consumed comes from renewable sources. The landscape of 1,500 plants and trees is irrigated using water captured on site, and most construction materials were sourced within 500 miles. – Bud Franck
LEED Gold (U.S. Green Building Council)
Atelier Wong Photography