There’s a progressive, new urban spirit emerging in Austin, Texas. With that spirit comes a movement of growth, especially west of the city’s Capitol Building. Part of the movement is the design and development of Colorado Tower, a 29-story office tower with 12 levels of parking and 5,000 square feet of retail space. The project’s location—on a prominent corner in an established warehouse district of small shops, cafes and entertainment venues—presented a unique opportunity for architectural design to meet the challenges of the new re-urbanization movement. The building’s expressive glass forms mirror the sky and surrounding area and mark its burgeoning and energetic urban setting.
The integration of natural elements, including wood and tone, and features emphasized in Austin’s Great Streets Master plan, such as public art and green plantings. Street trees and art installations reach from the outdoor streetscape to the building interior, shaping a meaningful connection for building occupants and passersby.
The building’s curved, floor to ceiling glass façade acts as an orienting device at ground level, opening to the sidewalk as it widens at the lobby entry. A generous and continuous wood-clad canopy extends over the sidewalk and mediates the transition from street to interior. The lobby is warm and welcoming. Wood is a predominant material, reflecting and reinforcing the designers’ focus on human scale experience. Other materials, such as slate flooring and terracotta tiles, complement the wood. The glass art wall, alive and moving with light, evokes the Colorado River that flows through the city just two blocks away. Exterior and interior seating encourage meeting and gathering.
Our desire was to have a modern space, but one that would also maintain a warm, inviting feeling. Wood finishes fit perfectly into the objective,” notes Tim Hendricks, of Cousins Properties, the company that owns the building. “The tones of the wood blend perfectly with the warm brown of the stone to create a natural feeling environment. It has a modern design that also makes you feel comfortable.”
Woodwork elements included paneling in the main lobby, trim, paneling in the elevator lobbies, an elliptical ceiling feature and wood trellises, reports Robert Byrd of ONSITE. The paneling and trim are made from quartered, figured Eucalyptus. The elliptical ceiling feature is made with reconstituted rift White Oak and the trellises of solid White Oak, which was chosen for its durability, since some of the trellises extend outdoors.
Involved in the project were design architect Duda Paine Architects, located in Durham, North Carolina, and the architect of record Kendall/Heaton of Houston, Texas. Woodwork for the project was fabricated by ONSITE Woodwork Corporation, an AWI member firm with locations in Loves Park, Illinois and Houston, Texas.
The building’s form and materiality, most specifically the street level elements, draw from local references,” notes Design Principal Turan Duda. “This focus on locality makes the building uniquely belong on this site and to the City of Austin.”
Lobby wall panels and tenant doors utilize Eucalyptus veneer panels stained an amber honey color. The grain is horizontal throughout the lobby to align with the horizontal banding in adjacent stone elements. The flitches were book matched for 100 feet along the lobby wall.
“The gentle vaulted saddle form that emerges from the wood ceiling marks the building’s primary point of arrival,” explains Duda. “The form receives and centers you before you move through the space. Traditionally this circular form would have been a concave dome. However, we transformed the nature of circular form into a directional element that lets you know where to find the lobby entrance.”
The lobby ceiling is a three-dimensional wood worm that drops from the ceiling. It is a 20-foot by 30-foot ellipse made up of 36 individual ribs, 1.5 inches wide and eight to 16 inches deep, with varying profiles to create a “saddle” form. This feature is the only element that breaks the ceiling’s horizontal plane. Its wood form is complemented by a lit, glass fiber reinforced gypsum shell dome.
Byrd agrees that the ceiling feature is quite unique and complex. “It required coordination with lighting elements, a dome and the ceiling system. It is installed at a ceiling height of 24 feet. We machined a full size template of the elliptical ceiling feature on our router that we used to paint a layout on the concrete floor early in the construction process.
This layout was used by the framing contractor and mechanical contractors to properly locate their work so it aligned with the ellipse.” Additionally, he says, “we recommended that the fins of the feature be made with a plywood core and then veneered to stabilize them and to achieve a better consistency of color and grain. We also designed a complex steel suspension system that we attached to the underside of the ceiling slab.”
Careful coordination of the ceiling feature included the creation of an access hatch through the center of the form, while maintaining parallel ribs across the 30-foot ellipse. In addition, the design minimized cross bracing and visible structural elements. The installation of this important form was accomplished through suspending the end of each rib by a steel ring above the ceiling plane.
“We had an excellent, mutually respectful relationship with the designers and architects,” continues Byrd. “They had created a vision for the design of the space, and were very willing to listen to our suggestions, understanding our expertise on the technical aspects of our work.”
ONSITE was integral to the implementation of Duda Paine’s design vision for Colorado Tower, says Duda. “ONSITE assisted with the selection and installation of veneers for the project, the selection of woods to match, fabrication details for the wood saddle ceiling feature, as well as provided critical installation techniques.”
Colorado Tower’s multifaceted skyline profile presents a varied image from every direction, but the building’s soul is the human-scale experience found inside.