Be Well

Austin university adds landmark wellness and meditation space from award-winning firm

Austin university adds landmark wellness and meditation space

St. Edward's University Recreation and Athletic Center yoga wellness cube
The cube is designed to "knit" the campus together.  Rendering courtesy of Specht Architecture

St. Edward's University's newest architectural feature is a landmark in both the literal and figurative sense. Later this year, the South Austin university will unveil a glittering addition to its Recreation and Athletic Center: a 12,400-square-foot space dedicated to yoga, meditation, and other wellness practices.

Among the features of the addition is a new fitness center, a studio for yoga and other activities, and a wellness and meditation center. Slated to open in December, it will be available to all members of the St. Ed's community, not just athletes.

Almost jewel box-like in its conception, Specht Architects designed the space to enhance the current athletic center rather than replace it.

"It's an addition to an existing building that’s served them well for years," Scott Specht, founder Specht Architects explains. "It’s a front with functions rather than a façade." The current structure is a rather unassuming building constructed in the mid-1980s, complete with a look that project descriptions describe as "very typical ... for its time."

The glass cube hovers above the campus' entry plaza, and is designed so activities taking place in the glass box (say, a vinyasa class) can be seen from the ground below. "It's become a building you want to go to," says Specht. "Part of that was showing what’s going on inside."

Composed of glass, the glittering new yoga and activity space is sure to become a campus focal point, but it's the university's commitment to this kind of wellness space that's likely to attract even more attention. As Specht points out, many schools are designed where the gym is pushed to the furthest boundaries of the campus. Rather than tuck it away, the new addition becomes a visual and communal focal point for St. Ed's.

Fostering that community is as engrained in the design as anything else. Other features of the structure include a pedestrian-oriented space in the home of a former parking lot, stadium-like seating to accommodate performances and lectures near the main campus green, and even a garden behind the building.

As a firm, Specht is adept at creating beautiful spaces that evoke feeling and invite conversation. The company's recent Austin projects include Carpenter Hotel, Indeed's corporate headquarters, and award-winning residential designs. The firm was also responsible for creating Doyle Hall on the St. Ed's campus for which it won an AIA Design Award.