Without (for once) belaboring the phenomenal growth Austin has experienced in the past decade, let’s just say that it spurred—nay, required—a substantial and sustained building boom to match. As the 2010s wind down, we’re taking a look at 10 downtown-area structures that contributed to and represent major facets of the city’s transformation over the past 10 years.
The Austonian. Opened in 2010, the 56-story tower barely makes the 10-year cutoff for this list but has good reason to be counted among Austin’s significant contemporary buildings. With a height of 683 feet (including a 61-foot rooftop screen atop the 622-foot condo tower), it was the city’s tallest building for nine of those 10 years and—along with the 360 Condominiums building, completed in 2008—can be credited with verifying the viability of the residential high-rise in Downtown Austin.
The Independent. Due to its so-called “Jenga” design and locally unprecedented height, much ado was made over the Independent, which opened in 2019—surpassing the Austonian to become Austin’s tallest building, and, at 690 feet (58 floors), the tallest all-residential building in the United States west of the Mississippi River and the tallest building in Texas outside Houston and Dallas. Designed by Rhode Partners, the building received scattershot local criticism because the top of the tower—which holds water tanks to keep it from swaying in the wind—appears unfinished to some.
Austin Central Library. Anticipated in an entirely different way from the Independent, the Central Library represents a significant moment in the creation of Austin’s civic community space. The ambitious project of renowned regional architecture firm Lake/Flato, along with national design firm Shepley Bulfinch, the LEED Platinum-designed building overlooking Shoal Creek and Lady Bird Lake anchors the Seaholm District. Opened in 2017, it made good on the city’s commitment to sustainability by reclaiming 40,000 square feet of a former brownfield site and converting it to a civic asset. A really good-looking civic asset.
SXSW Center. Opened this year as the new headquarters for SXSW, the ever-expanding set of festivals and conferences known round the world, the 12-story office tower isn’t a new building, but its complete renovation makes the list due to its distinctive (for Austin) design by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners and Gensler. It also represents recent revitalization of the area around the state Capitol and is physical testament to the role SXSW plays in the city’s ongoing boom.
Dell Seton Medical Center and the Dell Medical School. This is a bit of a cheat, list-wise, as the school and medical center are two separate buildings, and neither is architecturally very significant. Nevertheless, the development of a medical district—and the opening of a medical school on the UT campus—is huge. The medical school opened in 2016, and the center followed in 2017. The district should become even more robust with Central Health’s redevelopment of the former Brackenridge campus just to the south of the new structures.
Robert B. Rowling Hall. The new graduate business facility on the University of Texas campus is an elegant anchor on the southwestern corner of the central campus and a major fixture on the growing row of distinctive buildings along the western part of East Martin Luther King Boulevard. Designed by New York’s Ennead Architects, the 497,500-square-foot building connects to the AT&T Conference Center and Hotel.
Northshore. Opened in 2016, the Northshore is a mixed-use building—and since one of those uses is apartments, it qualifies as tallest apartment building in Austin and the eighth tallest in the city (424 feet, 38 stories). Its 439 apartment units also represent the revived interest in downtown residential rentals over the past decade. That should come in handy when the nearby tower under construction, already rented by Google, is complete.
70 Rainey. Let’s talk about Rainey Street, shall we? More properly known as the Rainey Street Historic District, the area and surrounding streets were thoroughly transformed during the past decade. The recently completed 70 Rainey is the tallest of the new towers in the area to date, but it certainly won’t be the last of the luxury residential buildings to grace that corner of downtown.
Fairmont Austin. Speaking of Rainey Street: The Kimpton Van Zandt was the pioneer on the boutique/luxury hospitality front in that area, but the nearby Fairmont Austin, in the Austin Convention Center district, is probably the more important. Opened in 2018, it’s the city’s tallest hotel and the largest in the Fairmont chain. It’s also completely embedded in a rapidly changing and sometimes contested part of downtown, linked to the possibly expanding convention center via skybridge, and landscaped to incorporate nearby Waller Creek, undergoing revitalization, and the area around the historic Palm School.
901 East Sixth. The five-story, 125,000-square-foot office building could be seen as a relatively early departure from the wave of smaller residential, boutique hotel, retail, and restaurant buildings that were developed or redeveloped on the street in the past decade. But it’s also stylistically distinctive—clad in weathering steel, with 14-foot-ceilings and windows that are all at least nine feet tall—and the city’s first building constructed largely of cross-laminated timber.