Michael Hsu Office of Architecture
Balfour Beatty


Fareground consists of a food hall, plaza, and bar connected by a landscape of heritage oak trees and native/adapted plants. The venue occupies the base of an existing postmodern office building and half a block of urban space along Congress Avenue.


Located across the street from The Line Austin and sharing the same architect, Fareground repurposes a desolate, underused public space by providing people with (wait for it) a reason to be there. The multipurpose food hall and plaza illustrates the ability of thoughtful design to transform the type of underutilized urban spaces found throughout many American cities.

Prior to its renovation, the plaza was a virtual waste of space, with a handful of park benches and the obligatory water feature that characterized corporate design in the 1980s. The landscaping consisted mostly of grass, and the only way to access the sunken plaza from the street was by stairs.

Fareground reimagines the plaza as part marketplace (“fare”) and part park (“ground”), aligning the public plaza with the vision of Congress as a modern-day Main Street. An accessible ramp meanders through a landscape of native and adapted plants beneath a canopy of heritage oak trees, while a lawn of synthetic grass reduces water use and provides a soft place to relax year-round. Two sculptural elements enliven the plaza: Cloudscape, a fountain that emits a cooling mist collected from air conditioning condensate, and Nimbus, an airy shade structure whose intricate shadows echo the dappling effect of the adjacent tree canopies. Raised wooden platforms, drink rails, and movable furniture provide a variety of options for gathering and people-watching. Altogether, these elements give the space a reinvigorated sense of purpose.

Inside, the former lobby has been transformed into Austin’s first food hall, which serves dishes from six local eateries, as well as creative meeting and co-working spaces. Overhead, curving wood screens continue the exploration of light and shadow, while brass and marble accents create a more upscale vibe.

Conceived as a pavilion in an urban forest, the bar on the northwest corner of the site (at Congress and 2nd Street) is a perfect example of “jewel box” architecture, a term that describes small-scale buildings characterized by extreme attention to detail. Notice the series of linear architectural screens that leads from the street down into the sunken plaza. At the street corner, the screens frame the entrance and create a sense of movement and rhythm. At the opposite end, they seem to dissolve into the landscape. – Bud Franck

Photo Credits:

Chase Daniel, Casey Dunn, Leonid Furmansky, Jason Radcliff