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LIVE: the beginnings of an architectural tour of Austin

by LiveModern Webmaster last modified Apr 25, 2016 01:04 AM
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by bubba of the bubbles ( last modified Apr 24, 2016



(photo I took back when Lance "won" his seventh Tour de France)

Austin isn't particularly known for its architecture, but like many cities, we do have our moments (for example, Austin has the only building in the United States by this year's Pritzker Prize winner, Alejandro Aravena). And in recent years, there's been an explosion of residential, retail, and institutional Modernism. Although there are a few architectural walking tours downtown, they are primarily focused on historic structures (that you can walk to). So my goal here is put together a list of places to visit (and perhaps even tour) in Austin, both historical and Modern, to give architectural buffs a potential architectural itinerary.

Outside of the Aravena, we have a no-need-to-call-home building by Michael Graves as well as a fine structure by Harwell Hamilton Harris. We do have one-degree-of-separation architects: Chester Nagel, who worked with Gropius; ...

I've marked this post LIVE because this page will change as I make additions to the list, including changes suggested by y'all. The initial stops proposed here come from an ongoing brainstorm. I know I have missed some things. I've also divided the list between historical and "contemporary" (structures after 1900).

The plan at this point is making a tab and, for each stop, include a short paragraph or so on the building. I also hope to make a Google maps of the stops.

This list is woefully incomplete, particularly for Mid-Century Modern, so either comment below or drop me a line at bubba67 at mac dot com to share your thoughts!

gawkable: You can view from the street
visitable: You may be able to see parts of the interior of this public or semi-public building; fees may apply
tourable: tours are available (but not necessarily focused on architecture)
regretable: A missed opportunity...

All photos by me unless otherwise indicated.


Levi Rock Shelter (8000 BC)

Smith Rock Shelter (500 BC)

French Legation (1842)
After Texas won its independence from Mexico, France, along with the United States, quickly recognized the new country's sovereignty. In response, France sent Alphonse Dubois to establish a legation and press for French immigration. Dubois quickly set to building a residence and office and angering nearly everyone he met, even leading to an international incident now known as the Pig War. The building is quaint and, although rustic, was the nicest place in town compared to more common log cabins. The building is quaint and, although rustic, was the nicest place in town compared to more common log cabins. Because of the Pig War and the Archive War, a political fight over where the capital should be, Dubois spent little to no time in the house. Unusual for Austin, even today, the house has a basement, something that contributed to the long construction time.

McKinney Homestead (1852)
Woodlawn (aka Pease Mansion) (1853)
Known locally as Pease Mansion, this Abner Cook Greek Revival was owned by two governors and has hosted the likes of Sam Houston, George Custer, Will Rogers, and Edith Head. The house regally rests on a city block of space, much less than its original 365 acres but fitting for this gorgeous southern belle.
Neill-Cochran House Museum (1855)
Completed a year before the Governor's mansion by the same architect/builder, Abner Cook, the Neill-Cochran house looks like the twin sister of the Guv's mansion. Originally on 18 acres just outside of town, Washington Hill commissioned the construction of the house. Unfortunately, Hill ran out of money building the house and put it on the market without living in it a day. During the Civil War, the house was used as a hospital for wounded Union soldiers captured by the Confederates. Later it was used as an asylum for the blind. After exchanging hands several times, the Niells and then family friends the Cochrans owned it for about 80 years before selling the house to the National Society of Colonial Dames of America in the State of Texas. The Dames cataloged and restored the house and turned it into the museum it is today.
Governor's Mansion (1856)
After some out-of-state goon nearly burned the place to the ground with a late-night Molotov Cocktail, the home of Texas' first family is back better than ever, although less friendly than before (the sidewalks on three sides are gone, the road in front is closed, and machine-gun toting cowboys haunt the grounds). Nonetheless, this Greek Revival house, built by master builder Abner Cook and one of the oldest structures in town, is a beauty. None other than Sam Houston (as well as Ann Richards and George W.) graced its hallways.
General Land Office Building (1857)
The oldest existing state office building in town, this regal hill-topping castle now houses the Capital visitors center. William Sidney Porter, aka O. Henry, worked and set several of his stories here. The architect, Christoph Stremme, was something of a renaissance man, earning a Ph.D. in Germany, working for William of Hanover, surveying the Mexican boundary, and dabbling with photography. 
Carrington-Covert House (1857)
This pre-Civil War structure was initially built as a home in 1857 by the Carringtons and remained a residence until 1881 when it served as the Texas Eye, Ear, and Throat Hospital". From 1903 to 1936, the Coverts owned and lived in the house (while opening the first auto dealership in Central Texas). In 1971 the building was turned over to the Texas Historical Commission where it now serves as the Commission's headquarters. I've heard the story, but not been able to find it, where the fight to save this building (the state wanted to tear it down) started the preservation movement in Texas.
  • address: 1511 Colorado Street
  • access: gawkable
  • architect: John Brandon
  • style: vernacular Greek Revival
  • notables:
    • National Register of Historic Places 
    • mas   y mas
      Austin State Hospital (State Lunatic Asylum) (1861)
      Built north of town back in the day, the Lunatic Asylum was a favorite place for Austinites to visit for its gardens and towering oaks. Today it still houses the Austin (Mental) State Hospital, and the original building is still there although it's been somewhat modified. There are also some non-descript streamline moderne brick buildings on the campus as well.
      • address: 4110 Guadalupe Avenue
      • access: gawkable; park on the street and walk in.
      • architect: Charles Payne, C.C. Stremme may have been involved
      • style: Italianate and Victorian Classical Revival
      • notables:
        • National Register of Historic Places
        • info   mas
          Madison Log Cabin (1863)
          Originally located at 807 East 11th Street, this one room homestead belonged to Henry Green Madison and his wife Louise where they raised eight (!!!) children. In 1886 Madison built a frame house around the cabin within which hid the cabin until it was rediscovered when the house was being torn down. The city reassembled the house here as a reminder of the back heritage of the city. 
          Susanna Dickinson House (1869)
          Susanna Dickinson is famous in Texas for being one of the few survivors of the massacre at the Alamo. Santa Anna sent her and her daughter to Sam Houston with a letter of warning. Having lost her husband at the Alamo, entered and exited three marriages after that, and living in a "house of ill repute", she married Joseph Hannig in 1857 after which they moved to Austin and built this house. The house was buried inside a bar-b-que restaurant called The Pit and wasn't discovered until the restaurant was being tore down to make way for a Hilton. The house was saved and moved to its present location. 
          O. Henry Hall (1881)
          Was originally the U.S. Post Office and Federal Building and was where William Sidney Porter aka O. Henry was tried and convicted of embezzlement in 1898. After the U.S. government gave the building to The University of Texas in 1971, UT changed the name to O. Henry Hall (embezzlement conviction be damned!).
          • location: 126 West 6th Street
          • access: gawkable
          • architect: James G. Hill (built by Abner Cook)
          • style: Italian High Renaissance
          • notables:
            • National Register of Historic Places
            • info

                State Capitol Building of Texas (1888)
                This regal building, taller than the U.S. Capitol (which is usually the first detail you'll hear from a Texan), was designed by Elijah Myers of Detroit, who also designed the state capitols for Michigan, Colorado, and Idaho. The structure consists mostly of granite mined from nearby Burnet, giving the building its unique pinkish hue (the dome, now aluminum, was originally galvanized iron painted to match the granite). Myers, saddled with psychosomatic illnesses and the vainglorious ego of an architect, was fired before construction started. His original specifications called for local limestone and a square-based dome. The switch to granite greatly reduced the planned ornamentation (granite is harder to chisel than limestone). Texas paid for construction with a land swap for the XIT Ranch. 

                Driskill Hotel (1886)
                Built by Colonel Jesse Driskill, a successful cattleman, this hotel is the oldest operating hotel in Austin. The capping elements at the top of each street facade are busts of Driskill and his two sons, Bud and Tobe. The hotel features an open rotunda at its center that extends the full height of its four stories. The 1930 addition is by Henry Trost of El Paso, who also designed the Gage Hotel in Marathon and the Paisano in Marfa (among many other railroad hotels). Trost lived in Chicago for a number of years and was influenced by the Chicago Style, even building a Prairie Style home for himself in El Paso that Frank Looyd Wright mistook for one of his own. 
                • address: 604 Brazos Street
                • access: visitable
                • architect: Jasper N. Preston and Son (with a 13-story addition by Henry Trost in 1930)
                • style: Richardsonian Romanesque Revival
                • notables:
                  • National Register of Historic Places
                  • Addition in 1930 by Trost and Trost
                  • info   mas

                    Colonel Monroe M. Shipe House (1892)
                    Colonel Shipe, father of the quaint surrounding neighborhood, Hyde Park, built this house for himself in quite an eclectic style: Stick, Swiss Chalet, Eastlake, and Queen Anne. The house originally sported a flat, concrete roof--highly unusual for the time. I've never seen anything like it anywhere, let alone Austin. Shipe created the City's streetcar system and erected the first Moonlight Tower in the development. 

                    Elizabeth Ney Museum (1893)
                    Elizabet Ney was an accomplished sculptor who built this studio, called Formosa (Portuguese for beautiful), on the then-outskirts of Austin  in 1891. Born and trained in Germany (she went on a hunger strike to convince her parents to allow her to go to sculpting school), she had an accomplished scultping career in Europe. After the start of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, Ney put her sculpting careeron hold, moving with her family to Georgia and then Texas. In 1891, Ney decided to get back into sculpture and built her studio on the north side of Austin’s Hyde Park, later sculpting busts of Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin for the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The studio, built and added to over several years, is eclectic with classical and gothic elements made out of local materials. A naturalist, she left the grounds in its natural state, much as it is today.

                      Littlefield House (1893)
                      Designed by native Austinite James Wahrenberger, the first degreed architect working in Texas. Wahrenburger finished in second place in the competition to design the new state capital.

                      Moonlight Towers (1894)
                      Frank and Annie Covert House (1898)
                      • address: 3912 Avenue G
                      • architect: unknown
                      • style: Queen Anne with Romanesque and Classical Revival details
                      • notables:
                        • National Register of Historic Places 
                        • info


                          Saengerrunde Halle and Scholz Garten (1901)
                          • Establishment in operation contoniously since 1866
                            • address:
                            • architect:
                            • style:
                            • notables:

                          Battle Hall (1911)
                          Home of the University's library at the time, many a UT student has fond memories of studying here. Designed by the New York architect Cass Gilbert, it's a revivalist building (as most buildings were at that time) that influenced Paul Cret in his campus design. Gilbert later designed the Woolworth Buidling in New York (1913) and the U.S. Supreme Court building (1935). 

                          Huston-Tillotson Administration Building (1914)
                          Huston-Tillotson is a historically black college with roots back to 1875. According to the National Register, the building is Prairie Style (although it doesn't look prairie style to me). Lovely structure nonetheless. (second photo from Wikipedia)

                          Laguna Gloria (1916)
                          Rudder State Office Building (1918)

                          Community Center (1925)
                          Perhaps the closest structure we have to an Irving Gill inspired Mission Revival structure in Austin, this building has clean lines yet still evokes Mission Style. Up until recently the building was a community center; now it is a private residence (note the tile infill on the third and fourth windows from the street; this is where the owners created a courtyard).
                          Norwood Tower (1929)
                          • address:
                          • architect: Giesecke and Harris
                          • style: Gothic Revival
                          • notables:
                            • Texas Historic Landmark
                            Travis County Courthouse (1930)
                            State Highway Building (1932)
                            Goldsmith Hall and Courtyard (1933)
                            The University of Texas hired Paul Cret in 1931 to develop a master plan for the university, and he went on to collaborate on some 20 campus buildings including the Tower and Goldsmith Hall. The famous Modernist Louis Khan is rumored to have either designed or drawn the courtyard. Cret was Khan's studio critic when Khan was a student at the University of Pennsylvania, and Khan later worked for Cret's firm from 1929 to 1930. After that Khan went to work for Zantzinger, Borie, and Medary, who collaborated with Cret on various projects. I would say that the jury's out on Khan's involvement with Goldsmith Hall. Nonetheless, if Khan worked on the project, it was well before he became a denizon of Modernism.   
                            • address399 West 22nd Street
                            • access: gawkable; visitable; the building is on campus; so you'll need to find parking, which can be a challenge 
                            • architectPaul Cret (with rumors of Louis Khan in the courtyard) 
                            • style: revilalist
                            Old Federal Courthouse (1936)
                            Deep Eddy Bathhouse (1936)
                            UT Tower (1937)
                            Austin Central Fire Station #1
                            • address: 401 East Fifth Street
                            • architect: Edwin C. Kreisle
                            • style: moderne
                            • notables:
                              • National Register of Historic Places

                              Bohn House (1938)

                              Brown Building (1938)
                              A 9th story was added in 1949 and a 10th story added in 1952. Housed offices of Brown and Root  and U.S. Congressman LBJ.
                              • address: 708 Colorado Street
                              • architect: C.H. Page and Son
                              • style: Art Moderne
                              • notables:
                                • National Register of Historic Places 
                                • Texas Historic Landmark

                                Tribune Building (1941)
                                • address: 920 Colorado Street
                                • architect: Shirley Simons and others
                                • style: Moderne
                                • notables:
                                  • National Register of Historic Places 
                                  The Chester and Lorine Nagel House (1941)
                                  Granger House (1952) and The Perch (1945)
                                  Arthur Fehr House (1949)
                                  • architect: Arthur Fehr
                                    Herbert C. Crume House (~the 1950s)

                                    Southwind (The Seymour Fogel House)

                                    • St Martin's Church (1960)
                                      • address: 606 West 15th Street
                                      • architect: Robert Mather

                                    Mueller airport control tower (1961)
                                    Yep, this used to be the old airport, now a monument to (to a hyperly successful example of) New Urbanism. The City thought enough of the former control tower to keep it, and it is quite glorious, designed by a couple of the town's early Modernists.
                                    • addressBerkman Drive
                                    • access: gawkable; park in the hood and walk to it; behind a fence
                                    • architect: Fehr and Granger
                                    • style: Mid-Century Modern

                                    Phillips House (1964)
                                    John S. Chase designed this rather progressive mid-century modern house. John S. Chase is a rather remarkable individual who graduated from The University of Texas at Austin, was the first African-American to enroll at a major university in the south, and was the first African-American licensed to practice architecture in Texas. 

                                    • Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems (1975-present)
                                      • address: 8604 FM 969
                                        • Working with the City of Austin, helped create the first green building program in the country.
                                      • architect: Gail Vittori and Pliny Fisk III
                                      • style: eclectic
                                      • periodically have open houses

                                    Employee Retirement System building (1979)
                                    I might be the only one in town who would list this building, but having admired it for many years (I work nearby), I'm putting it on my damn list. This building is a great example of regionalism I call "Pink Brutalism" due to the use of pink granite and gravel common in state office buildings near the pink granite capital building. Several Brutalist buildings grace the capital complex, and most of them are competent yawners, but on this one the architects clearly had fun. Ribbon window turndowns, cantilevered balconies, heroic massing... It's simply gorgeous and beautifully abstract.

                                    • The Jones Center (The Contemporary) (1998)
                                      • Architect: Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewis

                                    • Frost Bank Tower (2003)
                                    • Originally disliked by many Austinites when it first opened this tower has now become iconic. We loved it nod to Expressionism--a closed lotus flower at the top provocatively lit at night as if inviting the aliens for an invasion--from the get go. 

                                    Blanton Museum of Art (2008)
                                    I'm not a big fan of this rather basic and boring building, but I list it because it's the site of Austin's greatest missed architectural opportunity. In 1998, the Board of Regents for The University of Texas hired Herzog and de Meuron to design a new home for the Blanton Museum of Art. The Regents rejected HdeM's design: two limestone buildings connected by an undulating green roof. After a few iterations with the Regents, the architects walked away, leaving us with the comparatively dull design we see today. Architecture students draped their building in black, and the then-dean of the architecture school, Larry Speck, resigned. 

                                     St. Edwards Residence and Dining Hall (2008)
                                    Inspired architecture from a Pritzker-winning architect, Alejandro Aravena, this dormitory is the only Aravena project in the United States. After first rejecting his initial design, returned with a brilliantly scaled project that's symbollically conservative on the outside but wildly creative on the inside courtyard. I jokingly refer to it as brisketecture: brown and crispy on the outside, red and tasty on the inside. 

                                    LIVESTRONG Foundation (2009)
                                    The San Antonio firm Lake | Flato (pronounced Flay-toe [ouch!]) are somewhat legendary in Texas, practicing contemporary regionalism with vim and vigor. This project is a gorgeous adaptive reuse project that took an existing art deco warehouse and gave it new facade with a charming courtyard. Lake | Flato is currently involved in Austin with the new Central Library now (winter 2015-6) under construction.
                                    Four Seasons Residences (2010)
                                    One of the few starchitect-designed buildings in town, this one captures Michael Graves at the peak of his yawn-inducing Hampton Inn phase. Nonetheless, I have to give him props for a major nod to functionalism over aesthetics by adorning this building with the city's most ample high-rise patios. 
                                    • address: 98 San Jacinto Blvd
                                    • access: gawkable
                                    • architect: Michale Graves Architecture and Design
                                    • style: Contemporary
                                    • info

                                      Riverview Gardens (aka the Star Wars houses) (2012)
                                      Bercy Chen does some rather inspired work and are, imho, one of the better/more innovative firms in town. They do what I call Big A Architecture: architecture that moves the ball forward. These houses are a great example: super spacey, super cool, and super appropriate for their site. 
                                      thinkery (2013)
                                      The thinkery is an excellent, colorful, blocky building that houses Austin's children's museum (so if you have any tykes or slobbering drunks with you, this may be the perfect place to drop them off). Also of interest is the locale: This used to be an airport! It's now Austin's ragingly successful foray into new urbanism. 
                                      ACC Highland Campus (2014)
                                      Interesting project in that this site used to be a mall and is now one of the campuses for Austin Community College. By my eye, it's a nice design, and I especially like the large rainwater harvesting tanks prominent in the facade.

                                      future architecture

                                      • Ellsworth Kelly
                                      • Jenga tower
                                      • Central Library by Lake | Flato

                                      the bin

                                      • MJ Neal Avenue in South Austin
                                        • Architect: MJ Neal
                                        • Includes The Ramp House, the Wolfe House, and a couple of others

                                      • Agave
                                      • Sol
                                        • KRDB development on East Side
                                      • Cathedral of Junk
                                      • Natalie de Blois's house
                                      • Castle Hill
                                      • Picnic table
                                      • Boardwalk
                                      • Circular Holiday Inn
                                      • Ann Richards Bridge
                                      • O'Henry House

                                      • W
                                      • East Windsor House (2009)
                                        • address: 2206 East Windsor
                                        • access: gawkalbe, private residence
                                        • architect: AlterStudio
                                        • style: Contemporary
                                      • The Bremond Block
                                        • Austin Convention Center by Larry Speck with PageSoutherlandPage
                                        • Austin Bergstrom Airport by Larry Speck of PageSoutherlandPage and others

                                        •  UT Alumni Center

                                        • Bass Concernt Hall
                                        • Texas Memorial Museum
                                        • Canoes!

                                        • Gethsemane Church (1883)

                                        other tours/lists










                                        other info:



                                        modern sleeps

                                        Kimber Modern (baldrige architects)

                                        The W Hotel (Andersson-Wise Architects)

                                        Heywood Hotel (KRDB; 2012)

                                        Hotel San Jose (Lake | Flato; 2000)

                                        aloft (LKArchitecture)

                                        Valencia's Lone Star Court (Rottet Studio; mas)

                                        The Poolside Bungalows at Saint Cecilia

                                        South Congress Hotel (Dick Clark + Associates and Michael Hsu Office of Architecture)

                                        modern eats

                                        uchiko (Michael Hsu)
                                        P Terrys (Michael Hsu)
                                        Torchy's Tacos South Congress (Chioco Design)
                                        La Condessa (Michael Hsu)
                                        Shake Shack (Michael Hsu)
                                        Olivia (Michael Hsu)
                                        bullfight (Michael Hsu)
                                        Lucy's Fried Chicken (Michael Hsu)
                                        Hat Creek Burgers (Reach Architects)
                                        Gardner Restaurant (Baldridge Architects)
                                        qui (a parallel architecture)
                                        lavaca teppan (Chioco Design)
                                        Torchy's Tacos at Mueller (Chioco Design)
                                        Galaxy Cafe at the Triangle (Chioco Design)




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