• The walkway, seen here at an entrance point from Riverside Drive, threads through its riparian environment. Photo by Jeffrey Buehner

Project Boardwalk on Lady Bird Lake
Client City of Austin
Architect  Limbacher & Godfrey Architects
Design Team  Alfred Godfrey, AIA; Laurie Limbacher, FAIA
Photographers  Francois Levy, James M. Innes, Jeffrey Buehner

If Barton Springs is the aquatic heart of Austin, then Lady Bird Lake is surely its lungs. Every day, citizens can be found running, walking, or biking along its shores. The seven-mile loop, from the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge down to Longhorn Dam using both north and south paths, is now finally completed. The 1.3-mile-long boardwalk on Lady Bird Lake opened in 2014 after six years of work by Limbacher & Godfrey Architects, an Austin-based office led by the husband and wife team of Al Godfrey, AIA, and Laurie Limbacher, FAIA. This project was one of two TxA winners to also secure a local AIA Austin Design Award this year. Juror Clive Wilkinson, FAIA, declared: “Everything about it is a success as a piece of public architecture.”

Austin’s new boardwalk is fabricated out of a kit of precast concrete planks and galvanized steel components. The architects took care to ensure the infrastructure’s easy replacement and maintenance, as everything is bolted together and nothing is painted. Directional changes are achieved through angled edges of the walkway units rather than curved parts of specific radii. This allowed flexibility in the final layout of the boardwalk, which changed even during construction due to the complexity of the land agreements and to finesse around critical environmental features.

Walking the boardwalk at dusk in mid-June this year, Al Godfrey remembered that the original brief showed a simple path following the shoreline, but the firm’s impulse was to expand the idea into a more habitable format. Angling between various options — on solid ground, over interstitial marshy expanses, out over open water, close in against limestone outcroppings, under Interstate 35, on shaded eastern pavilions positioned for watching rowing competitions — the boardwalk resists easy experiential categorization. Juror Dan Wheeler, FAIA, remarked, “So often we find these that are hugging at the edge of a river or waterway, and the fact that this one moves back and forth between woodlands to little slivers, to being the broad landscape, vistas — there are these varying levels of experience to it.” Every 200 feet or so, a lookout provides respite from the ambulatory flow. In a couple of locations, the walkway bends around individual trees — a Cottonwood, just west of I-35, for example — and lifts slightly when access to an existing boat dock was required. It is a flexible, responsive path.

At night, minimal LED lighting under the guardrail provides the illusion of darkness, with just enough lumens to allow visitors to navigate safely without challenging the skyline’s glow. There is no signage, currently, which further reduces regulatory visual clutter. The boardwalk is a part of active city life, where one can exercise or, at dusk, catch the bats in their nocturnal commute. “It kind of reinvents the very public idea of a promenade,” Wilkinson says. “I think it’s a fabulous example to be followed with urban design going forward.”

Jack Murphy, Assoc. AIA, is an architectural designer at Baldridge Architects in Austin.

Leave a Comment