After celebrating its official completion earlier this summer and dismantling its crane late last month, we can finally get a good look at the 31-story hotel tower that is slated to open early next year. but which already stands at the corner of Eighth Street. and Congress Avenue, formerly known as Hyatt Centric Congress Avenue Austin but apparently also just going through the avenue – we think it’s safe to say the look is good.
Built by a development team including a Denver-based company Mcwhinney and local architecture firm Nelsen partners next to Hyatt Hotels, this project of 246 rooms in 721, avenue du Congrès owes many basic elements of its form to the many constraints of the site, making its pleasing appearance a remarkable achievement – the building sits atop an appallingly narrow lane, located in the city center most regulated corridor, with a 86 years old historic neighbor actually sharing its southern wall. Despite this jumble of visible and invisible barriers, none of the design choices on display in the finished product give the casual observer a sense of compromise.
For example, if you weren’t aware of this neighborhood’s regulations requiring the tower to move away from Congress Avenue on its eighth level, which in this case creates a pool deck overlooking the street, you might think that the choice to provide such a vibrant view of the city below was completely voluntary. The glass facade rising several stories to the ground floor is removed from the street to avoid crushing it State Theater alongside, providing a neutral setting for the historic circa 1935 structure in a way that we believe will arguably enhance its iconic neon sign and art deco facade contrasting with the dark glass – not to mention the rest of the exterior of the tower matches the whitewashed shade of the theater facade.
These are subtle features on a subtle building, but in a city where good architecture often feels locked in a dead end against shoes parking podiums and strange angles chiseled in the glass by the omnipresent gaze of Corridors with a view of the Capitol, the Hyatt’s somewhat understated elegance is strong with additions like the Indeed Tower and Block 185 as the most striking new downtown designs in recent memory – and unlike the massive footprints and parking components of both. Other towers, the avenue achieves its slender appearance by eliminating parking altogether, since providing a large garage on such a small site would make construction of the tower in its present state extremely difficult, if not impossible.
The fact that the building brings such beauty to its small lot largely by getting rid of its parking element makes the finished product all the more disappointing – architecturally it’s a triumph, but for those of us who are remember the previous iteration of this project, it represents a bittersweet missed opportunity. First announced in 2016, the avenue planned to bring its first car-free residential tower downtown, featuring 135 apartments in packaging almost identical to what is there now.
While the building designers and developers at Nelsen Partners haven’t explained why the project ultimately turned to hotel use, we’ve heard enough from people involved to know that at least one major reason for the original release de l’Avenue has collapsed the reluctance of investors or lenders to support an apartment tower designed without parking. Such a perceived risk aversion that the building would struggle to find enough tenants who didn’t own a car or needed parking seems a bit odd in 2021, with the pandemic pushing many large employers towards the end. remote work and current trends suggesting the younger generations are more and more likely to avoid car ownership.
In its original version, alongside its striking design, the avenue was a huge symbolic achievement for the ideals of urban life, and we hoped that its success would provide a model for many other residential projects without parking. In hotel form, the tower is simply a less powerful metaphor for the downtown future that we’d like to see, but that doesn’t detract from its own visible merits. As we mentioned recently, there’s a lot of social value in a building that just looks good, and honestly we’re happy the avenue was built in any form – we’re just going get our car-free residential kicks from small projects. Either way, you can bet your last dollar on the Eighth Corner and Congress will stop us in our tracks for a long time. Look at the!