August 7, 2017

Where will the Austin Center for Architecture live? That is the theme of a recent questionnaire our facilities committee asked itself about the future Center for Architecture. The questions were concise: “How much space do we need?” “In what part of town can we see our Center thriving?” “How can it best serve our Members, Allied Members, and the public?” “What kind of a space would inspire donors to contribute?”

The answers proved consensus, although much discussion surrounded every topic. The committee discussed the pros and cons of choosing a space in a not-yet-appreciated location vs. central, but settled on central. The goal is to be most relevant and useful to all: Members, Allied Members, policy makers, visitors to our city, children, everyone. We should be easy to get to, easy to find, with public transportation handy.

My favorite question was “How will the Center serve?” One committee member said this, “It should be a place for internally and externally focused meetings, continuing education, exhibits, symposiums, social gatherings. It should be a healthy work environment and embody the architectural design and sustainability goals that we advocate to our clients.” “It would be nice if it had a space that could be simply a hang-out space like a coffee shop so it gets used and populated like a public den space,” said another committee member. “More street visibility and less ‘back room’,” said another. Another stated that in their mind they could see busloads of school children disembarking to see exhibits, and out-of-town visitors starting their tour of Austin at our Center. Everyone on the committee agreed that it would be a nice bonus if the Center had spaces for members to hold client meetings or spend some time working.

There are some Chapters who share their Center with other organizations. Kansas City has six organizations with staff at their Center for Architecture and Design (AIA Kansas City, AIGA, IDSA KC, IIDA, MA, KC-APA, and PG ASLA). While the possibility of sharing a facility with another organization is not off the table, and would very much depend on the size of the building in question and the potential partner organization, the consensus was that partnerships are complicated, and we would rather have a sublet tenant, or a partnership with an amenity space, such as a café, rather than another organization. Of course we would consider a public/private partnership with the City or County, if a building owned by those or other civic entities seemed right for us. Really, this question is difficult to answer theoretically.

We discussed the building itself, and all were open to the possibilities of adaptively reusing a building, or building one ground-up. Should it be iconic? “The Center will represent who we are as a community,” said one committee member. “It should be iconic, but also extremely well-intregrated; have presence but be highly contextual; visible and yet not ostentatious.”

Now is the time when we need your input. Do you know of the perfect building to house the Center for Architecture? Do you have opinions on what kind of place you’d use as a member and bring your family to visit? Have you visited other Centers for Architecture in this country or anywhere in the world that you feel are exemplary?

Tell us what you think! Email me at It would be wonderful to hear from you by the end of September. And please spread the word that we’re looking for a space. Both Dallas AIA and Houston AIA found their spaces because someone in the community heard they were looking, and gave them a call. Let’s see what magic can happen here in Austin before our lease on 801 W 12th runs out in 2021.