Press Releases / Austonian Updates
The height of luxury in Austin: Designing the city's tallest building presented challenges
On a late January night, the 56-story Austonian opened its doors for a final sneak peak before it prepares to receive tenants this summer.
Ears popped as crowded elevators ferried guests to the top floors of Austin's new tallest building before emptying them into curved rooms, where they pressed against the windows like people at an aquarium to take in the view.
There, too, was Scott Ziegler, the architect with snow-white hair whose Houston firm, Ziegler Cooper Architects, beat out national competitors for the job of designing a future downtown Austin landmark that would be seen from miles around.
For years, experts from different fields pored over the details of the $275 million project, which Ziegler compared to a symphony. And after re-tuning instruments and some offbeat starts, they collectively composed the Austonian sonata.
Looking at the building, said to be the tallest residential complex west of the Mississippi River, two things immediately jump out: its smooth aerodynamic shape and a whole lot of glass.
Behind those aesthetics lies a purpose.
When designing the building, Ziegler knew developers wanted it to represent urban, sustainable living and attract residents to downtown from their single-family homes.
"What do you offer that you can't have in a house?" Ziegler asked himself.
His answer: sweeping views.
The curved slope of the slender building maximizes those views, allowing for a near panorama from every room, excluding the kitchen and closets, said Terry Mitchell, president of Momark Development, who acted as a consultant on the Austonian.
Mitchell said he immediately recognized this when Ziegler submitted his model for consideration, amid other submissions that included a wire-covered building that "literally looked like a spaceship."
He also realized something else, which showed that his music and Ziegler's were in sync.
"We felt strongly it had to be a symmetrical design," Ziegler said. "It also had to look the same from every side, to be a seen from long, long away."
The development team agreed on this concept, Mitchell said, and in doing so sacrificed square footage - along with millions in extra revenue that a square design would have provided - to create a "timeless building" than could endure a shifting developmental landscape for many years.
Settling on Ziegler Cooper, the Austonian's symphony began taking the stage before breaking ground in 2007.
"The most intimidating fact of the whole thing, was 'How do you put 175 units on a third of city block and make it work'" Ziegler said.
It takes an intense amount of coordination to go from paper sketch to 3D models, Ziegler said, moving through layers of progress like "peeling an onion until it is right."
Besides Mitchell's team and Ziegler's firm, who compared their roles to those of conductor and maestro, the orchestra was filled out with other functions and trades, such as green energy, civil engineering, and mechanical, lighting and graphic designers.
"We brought in interior designers. That was like bringing in the brass section; they had the pop we wanted," Mitchell said. "Landscape architects are the strings; they create the peaceful atmosphere. You close you eyes and feel safe and private."
Immediately there were challenges. For example, buildings of monumental height have a tendency to sway. To counter that, the Austonian is topped with a hundred-thousand-gallon tank of enclosed fluid.