The Napoleon Dynamites of Austin Architecture
By Brittani Sonnenberg & Anne Bruno
Photographs by Leonid Furmanski
Remember the movie “Napoleon Dynamite”? Namely, the triumphant climactic scene in which Napoleon, the film’s scowling, moonbooted underdog, starts breakdancing like a boss? We asked local architects which buildings around town they considered unjustly underrated. Their answers follow — structures that are too unusual, or anachronistic, or downright bizarre (read: awesome) to fit in at the cool architecture cafeteria table.
Abandoned Buildings Near Amtrak Station
“There are some interesting places if you follow the tracks in Austin, especially near the Amtrak station: an engine factory, and some really amazing old industrial things.” – Scott Specht
J. J. Pickle Federal Building
300 East 8th St.
“I admire several forgotten midcentury Brutalist buildings in east downtown such as the Homer Thornberry Building on San Jacinto and 8th Street, built in 1965, and the JJ Pickle Federal Building located just next to it.” – Arthur Furman
Texas State Teachers Association
316 east 12th St.
“The TSTA building at the intersection of Guadalupe and 12th Street is a great example of ’50s modernism that is both timeless and elegant. Its Lueder limestone façade is a beautiful combination of balance and asymmetry.” – Thomas Bercy
220 West 35th St.
“I love the simplicity, pattern, prototypical forms and quietness of the old stone and metal gabled sheds at Camp Mabry as you drive past them on Mopac. I hope they never change.” – Michael Hsu
Boggy Creek Farm
3414 Lyons Rd.
“I think some of the amazing East Austin urban farms don’t get the credit they deserve for their role in
defining, enhancing and fostering the Austin community (both physical and experiential).”
– Ryan and Stephanie Lemmo
Mopac Pedestrian Bridge
“Standing on the Mopac Pedestrian Bridge bridge is a complex and unique spatial experience that most folks don’t stop to consider: Lady Bird Lake full of rowers and paddle boarders flowing 30 feet below, eight highway lanes of cars rushing 30 feet above, with joggers and bikers suspended in between, creating an element of unexpected verticality.” – Arthur Furman
2219 Manor Rd.
“There is an old fast food place from the ’60s at the corner of Manor and Chestnut that is now a Mexican restaurant. It’s public space as parking lot so all the activity is open and visible from the street. It’s very direct and clear but haphazard at the same time.”
– Murray Legge
Seaholm Intake, Lady Bird Lake
According to Austin Parks and Recreation Department, the Seaholm Intake facility “is an iconic Art Deco design and once was the pump house for the Seaholm Power Plant.” Several architects also gave shout-outs to the LCRA dams around Town Lake. “They are made primarily of poured in place concrete and have an elegant muscularity and sense of purpose.” – Arthur Andersson
Thomas Jefferson Rusk State Office Building
208 East 10th St.
“The crazy Thomas Jefferson Rusk on Brazos and 10th is one of my favorite buildings downtown. It would make a great headquarters for a Bond villain.” – Chris Krager
Read more from the Architecture Issue | October 2016