Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center

600 River Street, 78701
CasaBella + Del Campo & Maru Architects with Teodoro González de León
Solis Constructors


The Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center (ESB-MACC) occupies six acres of parkland between the Rainey Street Historic District and Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail. Clad in chiseled concrete and glass, the structure contains two levels of classrooms, galleries, and performance space organized around a half-acre outdoor plaza.


Named after local cultural arts leader and political activist Emma S. Barrientos, the Mexican American Cultural Center resulted from decades of grassroots efforts to create a purpose-built space for Mexican American community visual and performing arts. Booked year-round and already outgrowing its original footprint, the ESB-MACC illustrates the importance of providing dedicated spaces for the preservation, presentation, and promotion of the diverse populations that contribute to Austin’s unique cultural heritage.

Prominent Mexican architect Teodoro González de León (1926-2016) served as the design architect for the facility. Known for fusing the monumentality of Mexico’s pre-Hispanic past with the materiality of Modernism, González de León laid out a three-phase approach for the ESB-MACC. The architect’s ultimate vision was for a two-acre zócalo (public square or plaza) surrounded by a two-story semicircular arc and flanked by three pyramidal volumes. The first phase saw just half of the arc completed, while only the smallest “pyramid” was built to house an auditorium at the north end of the site.

The ESB-MACC’s architecture is focused on creating an outward facing, welcoming, and sustainable space that fosters understanding and appreciation of Mexican American, Native American, Chicano, and other Latinx cultures. The angled vertical fins on the façade are not just a unique design element—they also serve as solar shading for the east- and west-facing walls of glass. Meanwhile, the chiseled white concrete embedded with marble aggregate is intended to recall the volcanic rock used in traditional interior Mexican architecture. The LEED-certified building uses 37% less energy and water than a traditional building, and 80% of construction waste (about 33 tons) was diverted from the landfill.

In the years since the completion of the ESB-MACC’s first phase, the surrounding neighborhood has completely transformed. The 2004 rezoning of the Rainey Street Historic District—just a stone’s throw away—kicked off a period of unbridled development that has seen this quaint residential street overtaken by high-rise hotels and residential towers. In response to the changing dynamics of the neighborhood, the second phase of the ESB-MACC (currently underway) will focus on increasing the venue’s visibility and strengthening its connection to the trail, waterfront, and Waller Creek. – Bud Franck

Photo Credits:

Atelier Wong Photography