In downtown austin

If you’ve been paying even a little bit of attention to the Downtown Austin drama surrounding the city’s tallest residential tower, you’ll know that the Austin public is somewhat upset about the building’s “crown.”

The “crown” is the last bit of construction on a skyscraper. Austin is a town known for its remarkable crowns – the Frost Bank Tower is notable for its cascading, pointed top (some liken it to an owl) and the 360 tower features an off-center point. Austinites have grown accustomed to some flare in our downtown architecture.

When it was announced that the Independent would be the city’s newest and tallest skyscraper, people got excited. As much as Austinites lament the growth and change in the city, there are a lot of folks who take pride in having a world-class downtown and tall buildings are a common characteristic of well established urban centers.

The design of the Independent is unique on its own – known as the Jenga tower, the building is divided into several section, each stacked upwards, seemingly cantilevered slightly off-center. Whether it’s artistically pleasing or not, it’s certainly unique.

Then, when the building was nearing completion, Austin grew with expectation about the crown. They waited, and waited, and waited, and then…all of a sudden the Independent was open for business, the cranes were gone, and all that was left was what appeared to be a metal fence adorning the top of Austin’s newest high-rise.

Basically, everyone freaked out. Social media erupted about how ugly and unappealing the top was. Notably, Reddit was furious:

Since then, there have been attempts to get the crown changed. The most serious effort was an official petition which you can find at fixthecrown.org.

According to the website:

“The Independent – Austin topped out in late 2018 to debut its award winning design as the tallest skyscraper in Austin, Texas and the tallest residential tower west of the Mississippi River. What was highly anticipated as the crowning achievement of the Austin skyline has become an embarrassing scar on an otherwise well executed project.

“The mission of fixthecrown.org is quite simply to encourage The Independent -Austin through its builders and architects to finish the top of their building and correct their mistake.”

As you may have guessed, the petition didn’t do much other than give ornery Austinites a place to lament their disgust at the Independent’s unsightly crown.

But, the “fixers” as I like to call them did manage to get their message heard. Local NPR affiliate KUT ended up doing a deep dive into the Independent’s construction, the rancor about it’s design, and what the architects might do about it.

You can stream the entire ATXplained episode here.

Matt Largey spoke with one of the architects of the building, Brett Rhode with Rhode Partners. According the Brett, the unfinished, mesh look was intentional.

“Rhode says he wanted to make the top somewhat transparent, so you could see what’s there. But the mesh also allows wind to pass through, reducing the force of the wind at the top of the building, where it would have the most impact.”

There’s actually a lot going on up there.

First, there are massive steel beams that extend through the top of the building that help stabilize it’s unique structure.

Then, you’ve also got what Rhodes called a “liquid tune damper.” Essentially, it’s a massive water tank that sites on top of the building and helps prevent a ton of sway in the building when it’s windy. The water splashed back and forth across the top of the building helping to damped how much flex the building has.

So in a way, the architect’s intentions were to bring the public in on the design and architectural process a bit.

Ultimately, the architects aren’t swayed by the backlash, stating that they’ve heard it all before.

The top of the Independent isn’t fully finished yet – Rhodes are looking to all color-changing lighting to the top at some point this year.

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