- Paul Phillipe Cret
- W.C. Bellows Construction Company
- Beaux Arts
Located atop a hill at the center of The University of Texas at Austin, this 307-foot-tall structure replaced the original “Old Main” academic building with two reading rooms (Hall of Texas & Hall of Noble Words) and a tower of book stacks accessed by elevator. The 27-story Tower is made from steel clad with Indiana limestone. The Tower is crowned by an observation deck and a carillon with 56 bells (the largest in Texas) that are played each school day.
The University of Texas Tower (aka Main Building) provides an iconic visual anchor to both the campus and the city of Austin beyond. The Tower was designed to be a vertical repository for the books of the university’s main library. But perhaps more important is the Tower’s prominent position on Austin’s skyline. A rare exemption from the City Council allowed the building to exceed what was then a longstanding 200-foot height limit; the result was an edifice that dominated the skyline for decades, cementing its iconic presence.
The Tower resides at the intersection of two major axes, in accordance with architect Paul Cret’s campus master plan. The wide pedestrian malls radiating from the tower provide spectacular vantage points as well as gathering places for students. The architect intended for the tower to be “the image carried in our memory when we think of the place.” Originally intended to house book stacks (librarians on roller skates would retrieve books and convey them to patrons below via dumbwaiter), the Tower now contains mostly administrative offices.
The lowest story of the building features a rusticated base with punched windows. Above are the large vertical windows of the reading room. An implied attic story (identified by its dusty rose color and Spanish tile roof) contains the President’s office, with access to rooftop gardens on the east and west sides. From here springs the tower itself: 17 relatively plain stories lead up to four stunning gold clock faces framed by ornamented broken pediments. Gold leaf garland cartouches run above the extended Doric columns surrounding the bells.
Beyond sheer size, thoughtful proportion, and classical geometry, the design of the building is loaded with symbolism that is best appreciated up close. Around the windows of the building are inscriptions in five languages (Egyptian, Phoenician, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin) that contributed to the development of English. Across the main façade is an inscription from the Gospel of John: “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”
Adorned with history, purpose, and promise, the tower also announces to the City the accomplishments of the University. Frequently illuminated in a variety of coded configurations to celebrate Longhorns’ accomplishments in sports, civics, and academia, the Tower serves as the connection between past, present, and future intended by its architect. – Derek Barcinski, AIA
1-7: Bud Franck