Work in the City Austin

Team: David Epstein, Todd Runkle, Jeff Berryman, Cameron Kraus, McCann Adams Studio

Health and the City

As Austin develops over the coming decades, health and wellness, already central to the culture and latent in the economy of the city, will become an increasing focus. In terms of Texas cities, Austin is known for its active lifestyle and vibrant city life from recreation along Town Lake and Zilker park to active pockets of urbanity across the city. The economy in Austin also relates this theme, as bio tech and pharmaceutical industries are key players. With the establishment of the UT Medical Campus, there will likewise be an increased focus on healthcare within the city. In conjunction with a smarter vision for the city’s density, especially in terms of livability and accessibility, Austin is positioned to be an example health and wellness city.

Intro to site

The 14 acre site for the proposed Central Health campus is located in an area of downtown Austin that has immense potential. The site is directly east of the Capitol Complex, just south of the University of Texas campus and six blocks north of 6th Street. Despite its seemingly favorable location, the Central Health site, as it is surrounded by low use structures such as parking garages and bounded entirely on one side by I-35, is currently disconnected from the life of downtown and the surrounding community. As several developments and revitalization plans are in the works for this area, it will be critical to create a unified plan that is community focused while also utilizing the proximity of education, government, healthcare, and the growing tech industry to encourage connectivity across disciplines. Through multi-use, higher density development that compliments the adjacent sites, the 14 acre site for the proposed Central Health campus has the potential to facilitate this connectivity.

Adjacent Developments

With proposed development surrounding, Central Health’s site¬–a currently stagnant area–has the potential to become a vibrant Austin district. To the West, Waller Creek is slated to be transformed from an underused public space to an activated urban green space that will connect downtown and Town Lake. Once completed, the UT Medical Center will be one of the country’s leading medical schools with access to a state of the art teaching hospital and research facility. Wrapping around Central Health is the proposed “Innovation Zone,” which would be home to a variety of tech companies and has the potential to expand across I-35, while remaining connected to the rest of the development, via a proposed urban park over the existing lanes.

Transportation

The site is currently accessible via private automobile as well as multiple public bus lines. The hard edge of interstate highway 35 creates a gap between pedestrian access to the east, though the proposed decking of the highway would regain that as well as mitigating some of the noise from traffic at the southern edge. Likewise, the realignment of Red River Street, would connect the site directly to the UT Medical Campus to the North, while regaining adjacency to the park along the site’s western edge. Proposed rail lines could connect the site better with the downtown central business district, as the site lies between it and northern destinations, though the exact location of these lines is not fixed. The existing regional MetroRail line runs well to the east, however proposed planning for an urban rail line favors a North-South connection along Trinity St. and/or San Jacinto Blvd. one block west of the site. This proposal would coincide with the outlined ‘innovation zone’ which also runs along that line.

Green Space

A storm water bypass tunnel is under construction that will divert 100-year flood flows from Waller Creek to Lady Bird Lake. When completed in 2014, it will create redevelopment opportunities for over 25 acres of downtown that are currently in the floodplain. The Waller Creek Conservancy partnered with the City of Austin to hold a design competition that aimed to create compelling public green spaces throughout this area. The awarded entry came from Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc. and propoises a chain of parks that run along the urban watershed. One of these parks, the existing Waterloo Park, is directly adjacent to the Central Health site, and will potentially serve as the terminus for this new citywide green space. Central Health strives to create a meaningful and seamless connection to the park by providing community centered, eco-friendly amenities.

Connections

A primary advantage of the site is not merely its location within an evolving downtown plan, but the connections it could foster between the varied programs to surround. These include, the UT Medical District, the Innovation Zone, the Downtown Austin Plan, the Waller Creek Conservancy as well as the residential neighbors to the East. As a currently functioning health care complex, the site has an obvious association to the planned UT Medical Campus, and certainly could provide supporting functions. Directly west, the site benefits from Waterloo Park which provides generous open space as well as a trail connection to downtown. This park likewise connects to the proposed innovation zone, to be populated by tech companies there and along the southern edge. Likewise, the decking of the interstate highway would connect the site to the residential activity to the East. Also nearby, and within protected view corridors, is the capitol complex.

Urban Design

The possibilities of the site lay in large part in the adjacencies to surrounding and planned development. The blocks at the northern edge, called ‘Health and Wellness’, could provide supporting space for the UT Medical Center Campus. The western edge draws on the amenity of the park to provide residential and hotel space at the heart of these developments encouraging a dynamic use of this city space. Mixed use blocks at the center of the site, as well as in the future acquisition space, opens up opportunities to meet various demands induced by the surrounding development as well as the residential on site and to the East.