Next Gen Architects Say New Tech Means Big Changes For Austin’s Future
Already a haven for innovation, the city’s growth can put cutting-edge ideas into practice
By Bryan C. Parker
Portraits by Holly Cowart
With the push of a button in an app, you summon a driverless car to pick you up in front of your garage-less, 3D-printed home, carrying you past the drone skyport before delivering you to a shared work space.
This could be the world of the future, and Austin could lead the way.
A burgeoning city where skylines and landscapes continue to morph, Austin is rife with architectural opportunity. Compared to older or more developed major cities, Austin is optimistic about change, says Will Hachtman, a senior in UT School of Architecture’s master’s program.
Hachtman and fellow students Bella Chou and Coleman Brink won an award from peers and professors in UT’s School of Architecture this spring for their design of a futuristic building inside a virtual reality model of UT campus. They spent the semester contemplating how technology and changing social paradigms might affect the architecture of the future.
Brink became particularly interested in the use of drones, which might be used to alleviate traffic by handling some of the shipping load that currently clogs city streets. Not to mention that a Japanese company has successfully tested a drone powerful enough to carry a human.
However, before we work out how to make flying cars safe, it seems more likely that driverless cars will proliferate. Brink sees a possible future where the combination of driverless cars and ride sharing vastly diminish the need for so many individual vehicles. In that case, garage space may become less common, allowing homes and townhomes to utilize more of their footprint for living areas, or even a green space such as a garden.
Though Austin has grown rapidly over the past decade, it remains relatively compact in comparison to cities like Houston or San Antonio, meaning it still possesses ample spaces that have never been developed, affording opportunities to incorporate the latest trends into new buildings.
With technology enabling immediate and convenient communication, Hachtman believes fewer offices and more shared spaces will emerge in the future. His hope is that these will be “spaces that we can inhabit that aren’t so mundane and oppressive,” which might mean proximity to outdoor common areas or designs that emphasize natural light and views of the outside world.
Historically, office space centered on efficiency above all else. But if businesses allow employees to remain remote at least some of the time, temporary workspaces become commodities that will need to offer comfort and pleasure to attract patrons.
The City of Austin issued 21,653 permits for single-family homes in 2020, making it the 5th busiest market in the U.S. for new home construction. But that couldn’t keep up with demand, as prices soared astronomically.
Chou is hopeful that 3D printed homes, like those designed by Austin-based company Icon, will lessen the cost of new builds and make construction more accessible for homebuyers.
Icon has already used the technology to construct a series of residences for homeless people in Austin, and 3D-printing technology can also be used in tandem alongside traditional building techniques, allowing for versatile architectural solutions. The printing process can be accomplished in a matter of weeks, drastically improving the timelines for getting new construction from concept to completed project.
Chou also found herself reflecting recently on Austin’s user-created spaces in a conversation with Austin architect Murray Legge, who was preparing a panel presentation on the topic. Because of the city’s rapid growth, Austinites have often taken matters into their own hands in the absence of useful spaces—think food trailer parks, South Congress street fairs, or outdoor art galleries.
Chou explains these locations as “people creating space out of things that aren’t necessarily architecture, but despite that it has become architectural, because they are creating a space.” She cites the Vortex and its surrounding courtyard hangout with Butterfly Bar and Patrizi’s as a great example of this tendency. Such spaces have defined Austin’s cultural texture, but they are also transitory by nature.
As rising costs and new construction push existing businesses out, Chou admits, “The places that we know and love today might not exist in 20 years.” However, she sees Austin’s rebellious ethos helping the city retain its distinct identity, saying, “The way people are in Austin, they will still create spaces of their own again.”