• Two inward-facing cotton gin structures were deconstructed and their pieces reassembled to form an engaging public event space for a growing Texas town. Photo by Brian Mihealsick, Mihealsick Photography

Project The Cotton Gin at the CO-OP District, Hutto
Client City of Hutto
Architect Antenora Architects 
Design Team Michael S. Antenora, AIA; Gordon B. Bingaman, AIA; Justin Gesch
Photographer Brian Mihealsick, Mihealsick Photography

The City of Hutto, located northeast of Austin, was established in 1876 with the construction of the International & Great Northern Railroad. The city has a rich agricultural history, particularly of cotton farming and cattle ranching. Once a small rural town, Hutto has experienced significant growth due to the opening of SH-130, which connects to the Austin area and the nearby Dell corporate campus.

The 16-acre Co-Op District site was purchased in 2003 with the idea of using the land for new city facilities and, potentially, private development. Antenora Architects was commissioned in 2009 for a citywide facility-needs assessment. They were later tapped for a master plan and preliminary design for a new City Hall on the Co-op site which relocated and re-purposed portions of the two existing Cotton Gin buildings. The master plan and building design were revised in 2012 with the Gin buildings adaptively reused in situ as a more modest public events center. A future, adjacent City Hall  will incorporate remaining stored materials from the original gin structures.

Ultimately, two existing cotton gin structures from 1947 were carefully disassembled, cataloged, and reassembled into one new building on the larger of the two gin buildings’ footprint. The structure was repaired and then reinforced to comply with current code. A deliberate effort was made to identify materials worthy of reuse. Existing roof trusses and columns were sandblasted, scraped, and coated with marine epoxy. Members were reassembled, then supplemented structurally where necessary. New openings and cladding were installed to complete the vision.

The new Gin Building alludes to its predecessors, while avoiding outright mimicry. The existing building pad was topoped with 12 in of new concrete and reused, and the building massing is intentionally similar to the original structure. Signature elements of both buildings, such as the awnings were reused and reconfigured. The building skin is a clever reimagining of the conventional metal siding so often associated with agricultural structures. Three sides of the new building are clad with metal panels that match the original construction; the south is skinned with a perforated stainless steel. In combination with glass overhead doors installed in the three center bays, a once-inward-focused structure has been transformed into an engaging public space. During the day, sunlight filters into the structure, while at night it appears as a lantern. It creates a dollhouse-like effect, as if the front facade has been stripped away, the goings-on inside exposed to public view.

Clive Wilkinson, FAIA, a juror for this year’s Design Awards, said of the project: “It was an interesting challenge that the city had about what to do with its industrial legacy, and how to remember the past and also bring it into contemporary use. I think with a tight budget, we imagine, they approached this with a lot of ingenuity about how to revive a structure, to refresh it for the future and re-appropriate it for event space in the absolutely most minimal way.”

The result is a flexible civic building that honors the city’s agricultural past. The Cotton Gin now hosts an array of city events, farmers’ markets, and weddings. It serves as a beacon to passersby on U.S. 79 and portends a thriving, progressive future for the City of Hutto.

Audrey Maxwell, AIA, is a principal at Malone Maxwell Borson Architects.

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