The reconstructed Citizens Tower sparks growth for the city of Lubbock.
Project Citizens Tower
Client City of Lubbock
Contractor Lee Lewis Construction
Civil Engineer Hugo Reed & Associates
Structural Engineer Henderson Rogers
MEP Engineer Schmidt & Stacy
AV/IT Datacom Design Group
Landscape Architect Prairie Workshop
We architects often speak on the value of preserving cultural history, and the newly reconstructed Citizens Tower in downtown Lubbock demonstrates how architecture can do just that. Previously left dormant for a decade, the 11-story tower is now serving as both a repository for cultural memory and a catalyst for change for the city of Lubbock. The project not only illustrates how the reincarnation of dilapidated building stock can reinvigorate an emptied downtown core, but also how architects might adapt existing infrastructures to preserve finite material resources, reduce embodied carbon, and redesign responsibly for a more sustainable future.
Downtown Lubbock has seen considerable change in the past decade, and this major civic project marks a milestone within a multiyear urban revitalization effort being pursued through downtown redevelopment and reinvestment. The tower originally opened in 1965 as Citizens National Bank. After the infamous tornado of 1970 devastated the city’s core, dozens of buildings in downtown were demolished, and much of the urban core moved further south and west. The empty Citizens Tower — recently notorious for its self-shedding marble facade — was one of many reminders of this misfortunate past, but in 2014 the city of Lubbock took action, purchasing the eyesore building. A feasibility study determined that the best course of action was to scrape the building down to its concrete structure and core. The original layout included an offset core along the tower’s western flank, which provided spatial flexibility throughout the center of the rather modest 9,400-sf floorplates.
The city’s larger design project proposes moving multiple civic services from separate buildings scattered across town into a recognizable, centralized, 212,000-sf service complex. Citizens Tower will serve as the anchor of this larger, three-block municipal development, which will include a utility customer service center, a public plaza, a municipal court, and the police headquarters.
The building fills the block’s eastern half, holding firmly to the civic setback line, and it enlivens the sidewalk area with a shaded promenade along Avenue K from where pedestrians can see the signage of various departments through the transparent glass at ground level. To strengthen the complex’s publicness and reinforce a safety perimeter, a portion of 14th Street immediately south of the tower was closed, creating a pedestrian plaza. The lower podium stretches from the southern end of the tower section north to 13th Street. Along the low-slung northern portion of the building, a secondary entrance and lobby area are provided for the Vital Statistics office
A striking formal move folds the solid plane of the east facade into the ceiling of the first floor. This dissolves the hard visual boundary between the interior lobby and the exterior sidewalk while providing a graphically powerful datum on the south side on which to locate the Citizens Tower signage. The solid eastern facade of the tower is also punctuated with a daylit fire stair that transforms at dusk into a glowing civic lantern floating above the glass vitrine of the first floor. As this white-metal-panel-clad exterior wall folds inward into the spacious lobby, it turns into a painted ceiling terminating in the western elevator core — finished in white ceramic tile — then wraps back along the floor plane in a polished terrazzo. Each of these cool, white surfaces wraps the pre-existing concrete frame and brightens the lobby. Their coolness is offset by large, continuous strips of warm wood finish paneling along the back wall and a portion of the ceiling inset from the floor-to-ceiling glazing of the southern and eastern facades.
While removing antiquated systems and sometimes toxic materials, the architects strove to preserve the materiality of the existing concrete structure whenever possible. Ron Stelmarski, FAIA, design director at Perkins&Will and the principal architect on the project, recounts how the renovation attempts to “maintain honesty through the use of humble materials” while revealing the building’s “great bones and layers of time.”
Decisions to feature the building’s material histories are exemplified by the reveal of the pan-formed concrete structure along the ceiling throughout the tower. This smart and economical move lightens some of the visual and spatial compression inevitable with the existing floor-to-floor heights. Purposefully placed solid planes create contrast and emphasis by wrapping the existing concrete skeleton with a selection of modest finishes. With an eye toward the building materials present throughout the city, the architects chose a subdued palette of terracotta, stone, and white- and charcoal-colored metal panels to reanimate the remaining building carapace. Solid terracotta panels provide a sense of permanence and appropriateness in tune with the context, while the large transparent windows to the north and south connect this civic building to the surrounding landscape and the expansive West Texas sky.
Unseen from the street, a subterranean level includes document storage, information technology departments, and tunnels that connect the tower to the adjacent parking structure and secondary outbuilding across Avenue K. Each of these pre-existing areas was carefully repaired and refinished to a polished concrete, which complements the newly brightened and painted white ceiling structure.
At the ground level, the plaza and sidewalk transition to interior public spaces, such as the wood-lined “Main Street” and spacious entrance lobby, which are defined through a more refined material palette, including a durable and bright white terrazzo floor. The public-facing areas connect to the city council chambers and building development areas beyond. The first-floor podium reuses much of the existing structure; still, the architects added some new long-span elements to accommodate a key programmatic component — the council chamber — while consolidating and replacing multiple damaged areas within the podium structure into a singular identity.
The second floor features a unique semi-private gathering space for employees that extends northward beyond the tower footprint; featuring a dining area and roof deck, the space sits above the roof of the lower-slung podium. The top floor also breaks from the typical layout as the form steps back to allow for two small balconies that span the northern and southern edges of the penthouse, offering expansive views of the city.
The repeating floorplan of the extruded tower provides each floor with a small elevator lobby that mimics the wood, ceramic, and drywall finishes of the main lobby, while leaving the concrete floors and ceiling planes of the original structure exposed. Beyond the elevator lobbies on each tower floor are offices with a small, shared kitchen and break area. Carpet tile is used in some areas as an acoustic damper
The climate-responsive improvements to the exterior cladding and shell are significant. Gone is the unshaded, single-pane tinted glass prevalent in the air-conditioning-reliant designs of the 1960s. However, the original tower’s east-west orientation with solid flanking walls — an intelligent design choice that eliminates low-angle sun from impacting the interior spaces — was unaltered in the renovation.
Another noticeable detail is the high level of transparency of the glazing. After extensive solar studies, the newly designed high-performance building envelope incorporated Low-E insulated glazing units along with external, horizontal aluminum louvers on the southern facade. Using evidence-based simulation, climate analysis performed on the south-facing facade aided the design of external shading fins to eliminate direct radiation during the hot summer months while allowing for passive solar gain to warm the interior thermal mass of the exposed concrete floors and furniture during the colder winter months. A deliberate and refined design detail, noticeable from the interior, is the subtle alignment of these fins with the interior ceiling plane, creating a visual extension into the landscape beyond. Here, in the thoughtful selection of a cladding system characterized by transparency and connectivity, lies a metaphor for how democratic governance can serve climatic and social responsibility.
Not all new architecture or programs can be successfully adapted from existing infrastructure; yet, Citizens Tower demonstrates how careful consideration of existing building stock can offer abundant opportunities for reimagining architectural futures. In this project, material history, carbon awareness, and program requirements fruitfully intersect to provide a cultural connection to the past while creating a new civic center for the citizens of Lubbock.
Peter S. Raab, AIA, is a practicing architect and an associate professor at the Huckabee College of Architecture at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. His research lies in cultural sustainability, where he investigates the phenomenology of place and the resonance of materials within architectural design.