Text description provided by the architects. Austin’s W Hotel and Residences complex is a new centerpiece for the city, occupying a prime location in the skyline framing Austin City Hall and Lady Bird Lake. Andersson-Wise Architects, of Austin, designed the building to make the most of the city’s natural environment, capturing prevailing breezes and controlling the intense sunlight to create a protected yet open experience. The multi-use project includes Austin City Limits Live at Moody Theater, a 2700-person-capacity live music venue and recording studio for the venerable PBS television production. The complex has truly activated this part of downtown Austin while adding a new dimension to the city’s musical culture. Conceived to set a higher standard for environmentally engaged design in Austin, the development has received Silver LEED certification and will be the largest building in the Central Texas region with this certification, and the only one that is mixed-use.
A restrained presence is a key component of the entire complex. Massing and scale make a strong connection to the neighboring buildings, especially to City Hall, which is immediately to the south. At the street level, open air spaces invite gathering and access from Austin’s Second Street District, a growing urban neighborhood. A landscaped public plaza on the southeast corner opens to cooling breezes off Lady Bird Lake and bridges to the W’s outdoor bar and restaurant, Trace. An adjoining open loggia provides a shaded passage from Lavaca Street to the hotel entrance. Panels of earthy, rusted steel by A. Zahner & Co. along with board-formed concrete and natural wood make this outdoor walkway comfortable and sumptuous.
The 37-story tower’s primary facades are oriented north-south with apertures composed to control energy usage and heat gain. On the south side, generous, deeply recessed terraces--inspired by the Native American cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde--create shaded, outdoor rooms for the condominium residences in summer and admit warm, winter light. North-facing units have walls that slide open to form porches. Projecting balconies shade the sun-drenched east and west sides of the tower. The building is intended to be welcoming, not overly produced.
The slender hotel and residential tower, positioned above the three-story podium, reads like a work of minimalist art. Sheer exterior surfaces, with their highly reflective windows, are intricately detailed to express volume and materials. The architects inverted the curtain wall detailing, turning the mullion to the inside of the building to give the effect of uninterrupted smoothness as one looks up the building surface. Shadows and natural light animate the mix of soft gray glazing and gray aluminum finishes by reflecting and sometimes absorbing the color of the surrounding sky. Light hits these surfaces and shimmers from some angles and appears flat from others.