Paperwork: Plans for a New Campus at Austin’s Highland Mall

As Highland Mall sits largely shuttered and surrounded by empty parking lots in northeast Austin, Barnes Gromatzky Kosarek Architects is at work wrapping up the design development for a new Austin Community College (ACC) campus to occupy the shopping center’s former JC Penny department store. The building was chosen for its central location, access to major roadways, proximity to public transportation, and the ample space for future growth. 

The architectural team, Jay W. Barnes, FAIA, N. Thomas Kosarek, AIA, and Lauren Goldberg, AIA, is proposing to renovate the facades, activate the sidewalks surrounding the building, and open up the interior to allow natural light to filter into the rehabilitated spaces. The primary challenge, explains Kosarek, was creating a transparent and inviting environment for the new academic use. 

The existing building is a two-story 200,000-sf cast-in-place concrete box with no windows. The proposed interior plan works off of the existing column grid and uses a series of columns to mark a long east-west axis through the building. Programmed as a typical student commons with flanking flexible spaces and classrooms, the central corridor guides both people and light into the building. The floor plate above the hallway will be removed in rectangular sections, creating a linear lightwell illuminated by a new series of clerestory windows to be installed in the roof above. 

A number of windows will be also punched into the facades of the building to allow more natural light into the rehabilitated spaces. The new entry will be completely transparent, and a new metal skin will partially clad the building. The sidewalks will be widened and programmed as student spaces. The transformation of this abandoned box is highly anticipated by its neighbors. “The community is very much behind this design,” says Kosarek. 

This article was published in Texas Architect March/April 2013.