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    KMFA’s new headquarters will open itself to the neighborhood with a glazed street front leading to community-oriented facilities inside. IMAGE BY: sixthriver

Many Austinites could be forgiven for failing to recognize their own public, classical radio station. Despite being an institution whose legacy dates back to 1967, Austin’s KMFA 89.5 has largely flown under the radar. That trend has only continued, as more listeners tune in to streaming services as opposed to traditional radio channels.

In response, the organization recently decided to take a bold step in an effort to adapt to present trends while investing in the future. For the first time since its inception, KMFA is constructing its own headquarters, enlisting local architecture firm Sixthriver to design an expansive, community-oriented facility specifically aimed at fostering real-life engagement. The Austin office of STG Design is the interior architect on the project.

“Aside from the typical office needs of any organization’s new home, KMFA challenged the design team to provide all the current office amenities and appurtenances, while allowing the public to access the space for performances and gatherings,” says Nathan Wilcox, a principal and design director at Sixthriver. “A major goal of the project was to place the broadcast studio in a highly visible and interactive location, while providing for the technical and acoustical challenges therein.”

The material palette is designed for transparency and warmth. Woods inspired by the cello and bassoon are complemented by champagne-and-brass tones of timpani and trumpets. The exterior cladding embraces a scale-patterned, iridescent finish — a riff on the site’s previous use as a fish hatchery.

The intent to provide performative and community gathering spaces shaped the design approach from the outset. Says Wilcox: “This [approach] generated the need for a number of unique solutions ranging from the provision of a multifunctional and flexible pre-function and banquet space, to designing acoustically-separated but visually accessible spaces. These aspects informed the massing and configuration of the building, which floats above a public plaza, covering, shading, and simultaneously activating the fully-glazed broadcast studio.”

With construction expected to be completed by late summer of next year, the 18,000-sf facility will become part of a broad, mixed-use development located to the east of Interstate 35 and north of Town Lake. Nestled among future homes for seniors, market rate apartments, and a fleet of office and retail suites, this prominent location will leave KMFA poised to impact East Austin and the city as a whole for decades to come. 

“Much has been written about the technological disconnection of society,” Wilcox says, “and as the centroid of our culture drifts further and further into the virtual world, real gathering spaces with real people become critically important. The idea of bringing broadcasters, employees, the neighbors, and the general public into the same shared space reinforces the idea that made radio such a cultural behemoth in the first place. We connect with each other as a society when we are all listening to a common tune.”

Christopher Ferguson, AIA, is an architect at Clickspring Design and co-founder of DO.GROUP.

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