Luxury Meets High-Tech at The Austonian

Nov. 30, 2009

This lavish high-rise is reshaping Austin, TX, with its high-tech, green features

Downtown Austin is thriving, and when The Austonian opens in 2010, and citizens move in to its 178-plus condos, Austin will be closer to meeting the mayor’s goal of having 25,000 residents living downtown.

Spanish developer Grupo Villar Mir and its Austin-based subsidiary, Benchmark Land Development, were ready to lay claim to downtown Austin, and a zoning change provided the opportunity. As part of Former Mayor Will Wynn’s initiative, density requirements were modified, making the 56-story condo tower possible. “They basically changed the floor-area ratio [FAR], which is a ratio of the density amount of square footage you can place on a particular tract of land,” explains Kurt T. Hull, senior principal, Ziegler Cooper Architects. “This [project] wouldn’t have happened in Austin if they hadn’t changed those requirements.”

Design Goals
Maximize density.
The final design features a high FAR ratio of 18 to 1. At 683 feet tall, The Austonian’s gross area square footage will total 850,000 when the construction manager turns over the building in June 2010. With an 11,000-square-foot footprint, architects opted for a dampening device on top of the building. It facilitated a taller design without using valuable square footage for a thick column and floorplate structure. The dampening device (sloshing tank) is a large concrete tank filled with water. Galvanized steel blades deflect the water and prevent the building from swaying. “It’s a counterbalance to the motion of the building,” explains Kurt T. Hull, senior principal, Ziegler Cooper Architects.

“The biggest challenge is that we’re constructing the tallest building in Austin – and the tallest residential tower west of the Mississippi River – on a small, one-third-of-an-acre site in a thriving downtown environment,” says Bryan Embrey, senior project manager for Balfour Beatty Construction. “The Austonian is bounded by Class-A offices immediately to the south, a children’s museum to the west, and the heavily travelled Congress Avenue on the east.”

Carefully choreographing construction activity was critical. “We have to time deliveries in 15-minute increments to ensure a steady supply of material. Furthermore, moving around the manpower and materials by utilizing hoists and cranes was challenging. The height alone made logistics a challenge,” says Robert Albanese, client representative, Benchmark Land Development, operating as Second Congress Ltd.

Maximize views. While the building’s height mandated tight construction scheduling, the views it provides are sure to attract residents. Towering approximately 200 feet above Austin’s next-tallest building, The Austonian offers an unparalleled perspective of the city and the surrounding Texas Hill Country. Since views sell condos, Ziegler Cooper Architects drafted a plan accordingly. “The shape of the floorplan is an ellipse. It has a very dramatic effect when you step into one of those units and see a panoramic view in about any direction on just about any floor,” says Hull. A high-performance insulated glass with minimal tinting was specified. The glazing offers year-round energy savings and unobstructed views.

Views were a key consideration when planning The Austonian’s amenities. The facility’s Austonian Club is located on the 55th floor, and the fitness center is on the 56th floor. So, even if someone bought the unit on the 15th floor, they will still be able to go to the top and see the view from up there while they’re working out,” says Hull. The rest of the amenities are located on top of the garage (10th floor) – a wine lounge, dining, a theater, and massage rooms, all of which open to an outdoor pool, a terrace, and a vegetated roof garden.

Maximize green. The Austonian is seeking a four-star rating from the City of Austin in its Green Building Rating System, which is equivalent to a LEED Gold rating from the U.S. Green Building Council.

It’s estimated that approximately 37.6 million gallons of water will be saved in landscape watering compared to a typical community of 188 families living on 1-acre suburban lots. Low-flow toilets, lavatories, and showerheads, along with a unique rainwater capture system, significantly reduce public water requirements.

The Austonian’s close proximity to dining, shopping, entertainment, and employment – all within a 5-minute walk – reduces the need for car trips, lowering every resident’s carbon footprint. The Austonian’s other green features include a reflective roof, lighting sensors and dimming ballasts, and low- or no-VOC adhesives, sealants, paints, and coatings. Hull adds: “We’re using very efficient plumbing fixtures, dishwashers, and clothes washers. They calculated a 38-percent savings of the baseline requirements for the city.”

Distinguishing Characteristics
The Austonian’s design isn’t just green – it’s smart. Architects carefully weighed decisions and chose systems and strategies with dual functions and multiple benefits. The sloshing tank is a perfect example: Its primary purpose is to keep the building from swaying, but its water will supply the sprinkler system in the event of a fire.

By tying into the city’s chilled water loop, less energy is used, acoustics are improved, and precious square footage is preserved. By using Austin’s chilled water system instead of electricity to power more than 175 condensers, heat pumps, and separate cooling systems in each unit, less energy is consumed. “We can have much lower background sound in all of the condos by having just fan coil units instead of heat pumps,” says Charles Middlebrooks, associate principal, Ziegler Cooper Architects.

Instead of selecting a curtainwall façade, architects opted for a unitized window wall system. It not only protects against the elements, but also provides superior sound isolation between floors. Before purchasing the system, a wind tunnel study was performed. Without the study, the system would’ve been specified based on calculations. “The window wall subcontractor estimated that the wind tunnel study allowed them to use lower design pressures (compared to calculated loads) that saved in steel reinforcement within the extrusions,” explains Middlebrooks. “Savings were approximately $0.40 per square foot, which amounted to a reduction of $114,000.” The study also revealed additional savings with reinforcing bar in shearwalls, link beams, outrigger walls, and outrigger columns – to the tune of 500 tons, or approximately $625,000.

The building puts environmental control and concierge services at residents’ fingertips. A wall-mounted touchscreen panel in each condo controls the unit’s climate, lighting, telephone, and security system. It also provides seamless interaction with Austonian Personal Assistants (who make restaurant reservations, deliver newspapers, receive deliveries, etc.), Austonian services, and the outside world. Residents can reserve building amenities with ease, as well as schedule when lighting and HVAC systems turn on to increase comfort and security – all from the web-enabled touchscreens.

The Austonian is an example of deluxe living that’s mindful of people’s preferences for environmental friendliness and connectivity. Towering over Austin, this condo project is reshaping high-rise residential design. According to Hull, “It’ll become an iconic building that’s going to represent Austin for quite some time.”

Jana J. Madsen is a Cedar Rapids, IA-based freelance writer with 10 years of experience in writing about the commercial buildings industry.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of I+S Design, create an account today!