The Contemporary Austin / Jones Center on Congress Avenue

700 Congress Avenue, 78701
Built:
1921
Alterations:
2010; 2017
Architect:
LTL Architects
Builder:
Structura (2010); Zapalac/Reed (2017)
Style:
Contemporary (adaptive reuse)

Description

Renovated several times over the last century, this dynamic gallery space presents exhibitions by acclaimed contemporary artists and a full calendar of cultural activities. The exterior is notable for its floor-to-ceiling storefront glazing, white stucco façade punctuated by glass blocks, and rooftop canopy that displays artist Jim Hodges’s monumental sculpture With Liberty and Justice for All (A Work in Progress).

Placemaking

For 150 years, change has been the only constant for this site. The building in front of you today represents the accumulation of numerous renovations, additions, deletions, and accretions. Its cohesive and inviting appearance is a testament to the architects’ skill in fashioning an inclusive arts space with a distinct identity.

The brick structure (c. 1856) that first occupied the site was demolished in 1921 and replaced by the Queen Theater, a concrete-and-steel structure featuring an arched cornice, metal awning, and decorative tile. In the 1950s, the movie palace’s ornamental façade was stripped away, and its frescoed interior was covered up and split into multiple levels for a department store. After the store fell victim to the suburban shopping mall exodus, the Texas Fine Arts Association converted the ground floor into a gallery for contemporary art, opening its doors in 1998.

From these modest origins, the space has undergone two renovations (and as many name changes) that have collectively enhanced the connection between the galleries and the street, opened up 20,000 square feet of exhibition space, and created a public rooftop deck that hosts open-air film screenings and other events year-round.

The architecture highlights the back-and-forth at play between the city and museum—each inspires the other. Floor-to-ceiling glass in the lobby and a large punched window in the upper floor lecture space provide visual connections to the street. Inside the second floor gallery, a 57-foot-long suspended and motorized wall weighing 16,000 pounds can be moved to reconfigure the column-free space. The galleries and rooftop are linked by a wooden staircase that is a work of art unto itself.

The two walls facing the street are perforated by 177 punched-out 4-by-16-inch LED-lit glass blocks (say that five times fast). Their density varies depending on how much light is needed inside: the blocks are spaced closer together in offices and meeting rooms, and farther apart in the galleries. Above it all, a canopy floats 23 feet above the rooftop deck, defining an event space that may be completely enclosed by curtains. – Bud Franck, RA

Photo Credits:

Bud Franck, Leonid Furmansky, Michael Moran, Patrick Wong