Prize of the Lagoon

Prize of the Lagoon

Courtesy The Contemporary Austin

In January, The Contemporary Austin (formerly AMOA-Arthouse) announced three finalists in an invited competition to design a master site plan for Laguna Gloria, the museum’s 12-acre estate on the shores of Lake Austin. The three firms are Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture of San Francisco; Reed Hilderbrand Landscape Architecture of Boston; and Norwegian firm Snøhetta, which has an office in New York City.

These three firms are not only leading innovators in urban and landscape design, but also have rich experience working with artists and arts communities. They all have impressive records of significant design and planning work,” said Frederick Steiner, dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin, in a statement.

In May 2013, Steiner led a committee that sent RFQs to 33 firms. Nineteen of the firms responded. The committee winnowed the list down to four semi-finalists—including Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, which has offices in Seattle and Washington, D.C.—providing each with $10,000 to prepare a presentation. On October 22, the committee entertained presentations by the four firms and further narrowed the list to the above three. It also determined to visit each firm’s studio and some of their completed projects. The committee will reconvene in mid-February to pick a winner, which will be announced in early spring 2014.

The museum declined to release details on the finalist firms’ proposals, citing their sketchy condition at this stage of the process. It did, however, reveal the main stipulations of the RFQ, which requested a comprehensive master plan that fully incorporates the 12 acres of Laguna Gloria, lays the groundwork for a sculpture park, and respects the site’s ecology and existing buildings.

Laguna Gloria was the home of Texas businesswoman, philanthropist, and preservationist Clara Driscoll and her husband Henry Sevier. It is the site of the 1916 Italianate-style Driscoll Villa, which was designed by San Antonio architect Harvey L. Page and is on the National Register of Historic Places. A 5,300-square-foot art school, built after the estate became an art museum in the 1960s, is also part of the grounds.     In May 2013, The Contemporary Austin hired local environmental planning and cartography company Siglo Group to conduct an environmental assessment of Laguna Gloria. Siglo produced a report analyzing the property’s natural and cultural history, delineating its qualities and features, and suggesting conservation and management guidelines.

Siglo Group made recommendations for how to increase the ecological resiliency of the site, locating places where there are erosion problems, picking out invasive species, and indicating what native plants might be increased. It also made suggestions on how best to improve the visitor experience by capitalizing on the existing view sheds and vegetative buffers.

One part of our evaluation was determining what was on the site and pinpointing some of the hidden jewels,” said Jonathan Ogren of Siglo Group. “Laguna Gloria is representative of the vegetation types of what you’d find in Central Texas. Near the water you have riparian forest with some beautiful cathedral like cypress trees. There’s a sloping oak savanna up top. Then there’s a large swath through middle that was converted to Bermuda grass in the 1980s. Those different ecosystems create different rooms, like rooms in a museum, that will work for different types of art.”