Austin’s Design Commission sends HKS supertall back to the drawing board

Round Two

Austin’s Design Commission sends HKS supertall back to the drawing board

Aerial view of Wilson Tower, an 80-story residential skyscraper by HKS that could break ground next summer. (HKS)

In December, HKS and developer Wilson Capital revealed plans for an 80-story Austin tower that hopes to take advantage of a city rule that allows denser development in certain areas downtown in exchange for public amenities at street level. If it is constructed as planned, the building would be the tallest residential tower outside New York City. Last week, however, the City of Austin Design Commission sent the project back to the drawing board over concerns around the accessibility and street-friendliness of the building’s proposed public plaza.

One commissioner stated that Wilson Tower’s lobby could be scaled back and suggested that some of the plaza could be devoted to food trucks 0r other uses that could draw pedestrians visiting the park next door.

“[The) usability of this space for the amount of additional height, I don’t know how to suggest to fix it other than…it looks like…I’m not invited to it. So I can’t support the project for that reason,” another commissioner said.

A third took issue with the size of the 600-car parking podium.

“When we created these urban design guidelines, we didn’t know the extend to which we would see these parking podiums that are very divisive in the city. Given [this project’s) placement in a prominent area, I think there is an opportunity to not only place-make as part of the urban design guidelines, but also to incorporate public art and really differentiate it from other projects.”

For these and other reasons, the Commission determined that the project was not in compliance with the city’s Urban Design Guidelines. But it didn’t totally nix the project. The design team and developer were invited to come back next month, or whenever they were ready, with a revised design that addresses the commissioners’ concerns.

Designed by the Austin office of HKS, the 80-story Wilson Tower is about as tall as the Chrysler Building. It would 450 apartments, from studios to four bedroom penthouses, to the downtown of a city that is desperately pressed for housing. The building will host a cocktail lounge, a pool with food and beverage service, a movie theater, a coworking spaces, a gym, and a pet floor with a playroom, grooming facilities, and a dog run.

At 1,035 feet tall, the planned tower qualifies as a supertall, a distinction reserved for structures exceeding 984 feet (300 meters) in height. As the tallest building in town, views across the skyline would be basically unobstructed, except for one other building. If and when it is complete, HKS’s project will be joined by Waterline, an under-construction supertall from KPF that will clock in about 13 feet shorter than Wilson Tower.