- Cotera+Reed Architects
The District Cooling Plant is the third such structure built to supply chilled water to buildings in Austin’s rapidly growing downtown. The 10,000 ton-capacity plant is comprised of four primary and three secondary chilled water pumps, four 2,500-ton chillers, and nine cooling towers behind a façade of cerulean blue ceramic tiles.
The Seaholm District—a former industrial sector that has been transformed into a vibrant, mixed-use neighborhood—is home to Austin Energy’s third District Cooling Plant. The facility’s purpose is to increase the efficiency of downtown’s energy infrastructure and reduce the strain on power resources. To support the energy demands of the city, the plant serves as a central piece of infrastructure that provides chilled water (by means of a network of underground pipes) to the surrounding buildings, which in turn use that chilled water for air conditioning.
From the outside, the District Cooling Plant boasts a beautiful, vibrant, and shimmering blue tile façade that blends in with the clear sky above. The plant houses nine cooling tower cells and four 2,500-ton water cooled centrifugal chillers to provide an additional 10,000 tons of cooling capacity to the city (note that in mechanical engineering, tonnage measures cooling power instead of weight). For perspective, the average residential air conditioning system requires one to five tons of cooling. A single district cooling plant can meet the cooling needs of several large buildings, resulting in greater energy efficiency as well as reduced equipment and maintenance costs.
Next to the cooling plant, an art installation complements the building with its cloud-shaped forms. Created by local artist Beili Liu, “Cloud Pavilion” makes a wonderful addition to the eclectic Seaholm District. The permanent installation—part of the city’s Art in Public Places program—is a 14-foot-tall amorphous steel structure that simulates the shapes of the clouds and tells the story of the water cycle and its life sustaining purpose, a fitting theme for its environment. – Miren Urena