In program, Austin’s new East Side District is nothing out of the ordinary: a stadium and arena paired with a hotel and public plaza functions, totaling 1.3 million sf. Visions for other recently announced mixed-use developments across the state come to mind, such as Texas Live! and The Star in Frisco. Projects like these have shaped the lay of the land in Texas cities and suburbs, their forms articulated strictly by the metrics used to assess a development’s solvency.

East Side District takes a different approach. Designed by Copenhagen and New York City-based Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), with local architect STG Design and Walter P. Moore Engineers, the project employs a simple yet informed gesture as a means of seeing a well-worn project type through a fresh lens.

The program is arranged in checkerboard fashion under one big roof. A 40,000-seat stadium for professional soccer and rugby anchors the center of the plan. An adjoining 15,000-seat multipurpose venue will host Rodeo Austin. The rest of the program — including eight public courtyards; retail, restaurant, and hospitality space; and 28,000 sf of youth facilities — weaves these larger elements together and promises to make the project a year-round destination. Wood is used amply beneath the roof as a warm, connective visual cue between spaces. The roof itself is clad in a red-colored photovoltaic system with the goal of powering the entire project.

Where the project still lacks a clear resolution is in the site condition beyond the structure itself. Eye-level views show the intended connection between the corners of the project and the adjacent streets — a set of gravel walks that weaves through a vegetated landscape, affording alluring views of the building. The story is a bit different in the aerial rendering, where parking is the dominant element.

Overall, East Austin District is a compelling concept that is shaping an interesting dialogue among different expressions of sports, of the City of Austin, and of the very nature of mixed-use development. If achieved as BIG intends, it has the potential to be a thought-provoking model for future, similar endeavors within Texas and beyond. A timetable for project completion is yet to be determined.

Michael Friebele, Assoc. AIA, is a project designer at Perkins+Will Dallas.

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