Architect BOKA Powell with Michael Hsu Office of Architecture
Design Team John Orfield; Eric Van Hyfte, AIA; Michael Hsu, AIA; Maija Kreishman, AIA; Michael W. Smith, AIA; Nathan Wilcox; Kyn Sledge, AIA; Alison Moore; Nicole Joslin, AIA; Tracie Gesch; Micah Land; Bryan Campbell; Sarah Simpson; Rommel Sulit; Nic Jung, AIA
Photographers Erika Brown Edwards
As urban centers throughout Texas continue to be affected by the ever-evolving role of the automobile, jurors gravitated toward Lamar Union as an example of responsible redevelopment — a model that shifts focus from environments that cater to cars to those designed for density and an elevated pedestrian experience.
Boasting nearly 450,000 sf of program, exclusive of parking, the nine-acre site, originally developed in the 1950s as a car-centric shopping center, was transformed into a colorful and economical mixed-use development through a collaboration between BOKA Powell and Austin-based Michael Hsu Office of Architecture.
“We were fascinated by how it transformed a car-oriented retail center to something that was more pedestrian-oriented: Relating to the sidewalk — creating spaces where pedestrians can engage with the retail — the treatment of the massing and the delineation of the material and the use of color was quite admirable,” says Mehrdad Yazdani, AIA.
Indeed, the team’s submission documents deftly underscore these particular moments. Most slides feature unpopulated, wide-angle, and richly saturated photography that would just as easily feel at home in a leasing brochure. Photographs of the residential terrace at dusk, taken poolside while looking out over the Austin skyline, are married with adjacent slides of ground-floor storefronts along Lamar Boulevard at daybreak. The photography as presented is strategic: The presentation insists that these are dynamic environments that speak to crafting a walkable, 24/7 urban zone, a place that at once identifies as quintessentially Austin, while also keeping the city at a comfortable arm’s length, when desired.
“I am quite familiar with Lamar Boulevard,” Yazdani says. “It’s a vehicular thoroughfare. The street is populated by a collection of different-scale commercial buildings with large signage and buildings surrounded by parking lots.”
It’s a description that any Austinite would consider apropos, and an urban condition that the project team emphasized throughout the award submission. Long-exposure imagery with trails of headlights streaking across the foreground lends the colorful development a poise and sense of place. By later introducing imagery featuring softer, more intimate pedestrian moments, the project clearly reads as a refuge from the boisterous thoroughfare often lamented by locals.
“Many of the attempts at doing this [type of development] are really superficial and cheesy,” says Eric Cesal, Assoc. AIA. “We thought that this project actually did an effective job of bringing safe spaces away from the road and creating moments of interaction between different populations of people.”
Christopher Ferguson, AIA, is an architect at Clickspring Design and co-founder of DO.GROUP.