Architectural accolades

2 innovative Austin buildings crowned with prestigious design award

2 innovative Austin buildings crowned with prestigious design award

Austin Central Library
Austin Central Library Austin Public Library/Flickr
Photo courtesy of Gensler
The former UPCycle now houses H-E-B's digital division and Favor's headquarters.
Austin Central Library
Photo courtesy of Gensler

Two projects in Austin have claimed a prestigious award from the American Institute of Architects.

On May 21, the AIA's Committee on the Environment announced the Austin Central Library and an H-E-B office building in East Austin were winners in the Top Ten Awards program. Only one other city, New York City, can boast two COTE-winning projects this year.

COTE annually honors 10 design projects “that have expertly integrated design excellence with cutting-edge performance” in key areas, AIA says. The winning projects “illustrate the solutions architects provide for the health and welfare of our communities and planet.”

A five-member jury evaluates each nominated project based on 10 criteria that measure aspects such as social, economic, and ecological values.

Completed in 2017, the Austin Central Library overlooks Shoal Creek and Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin. It was designed by Lake Flato Architects, which has offices in San Antonio and Austin, and Boston-based architecture firm Shepley Bullfinch. The library cost $89 million to build.

The 198,588-square-foot library is “shaped by light and designed to respond to the context of its place,” AIA notes.

“Before design began, the project team set aspirational sustainability and design metrics for the project. Two primary sustainability goals for the library were determined: It would be the most daylit library in the country, and it would serve as a water conservation model for buildings in the region,” AIA says.

AIA points out that the library’s six-story atrium bathes more than 80 percent of the commonly used spaces in daylight. The project also features a 373,000-gallon rainwater harvesting system.

Other highlights of the Austin Central Library include:

  • Outdoor reading porches
  • “Maker” spaces
  • Outdoor dining spots
  • Rooftop garden
  • Technology center
  • CookBook Café
  • Gift shop
  • 350-seat event center
  • Art gallery
  • Demonstration kitchen

AIA calls the library “a model for sustainable resource use and library efficiency while promoting visceral connections to collections, history, culture, and place.”

Lake Flato also won a COTE award for its design collaboration with Bay St. Louis, Mississippi-based Unabridged Architecture on the Marine Education Center at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory.

The other COTE-recognized site in Austin is an “adaptive reuse” project that transformed the Balcones Recycling Center into an office building. The Austin office of global architecture firm Gensler designed the 76,494-square-foot space (formerly known as UPCycle) which cost nearly $6.9 million to construct. 

“What was an opaque, uninviting warehouse is now a light-filled creative office building,” AIA says. “What was once a mere metal shed is now a comfortable and efficient space that encourages interaction and connection between the tenants and the surrounding neighborhood.”

The building currently houses H-E-B’s digital division and its Favor delivery service. The space opened in 2018.

“The existing building, which had sat idle for many years, was partly covered in graffiti and had been used for various graffiti art exhibitions,” AIA notes. “During the renovation, the team found and hired these and other local artists to create an interior aesthetic consistent with the character of East Austin. The vibrant colors of the art that adorn the existing structure enliven the former industrial space and celebrate the past.”