Moody Center Takes Center Stage at the University of Texas
With new tech, flexible event spaces and Austin-centric design, the new arena plans to be a hub of entertainment activity
By Bryan C. Parker
Renderings courtesy of Gensler and Design Illustration Group LLC
A single building rarely has the power to redefine the first impression a city makes and alter the fabric of its culture. But that’s exactly the aim of the brand new Moody Center, positioned at the edge of UT’s 40 acres on Red River St., proudly visible from the elevated portion of IH-35. The Moody Center’s cantilevered roof juts out dramatically toward the highway, making a bold statement to anyone passing through Austin’s downtown corridor.
Replacing the soon-to-be demolished Frank Erwin Center, the Moody Center will host a steady stream of live music performances, in addition to being the home for UT men’s and women’s basketball games and a variety of other athletic events. Ground broke on the Moody Center’s construction in December 2019 and will conclude in April 2022. John Mayer will play the venue’s first concert, with back-to-back dates on April 20 and 21, but the arena’s grand opening is a double bill of George Strait and Willie Nelson on April 29 and 30.
“This venue is going to be one of the busiest concert venues in the country,” promises Jeff Nickler, Moody Center’s general manager and a Senior Vice President at Oak View Group, the company managing the project’s construction. Nickler says that past concert tours have skipped Austin in favor of other nearby cities with better facilities, but feels confident that Moody Center will change that trend, in part thanks to Live Nation and C3 Presents, who are partners in the project.
“The level of excitement in the concert industry from agents, promoters and artists to play Austin is through the roof,” says Nickler.
While the Erwin Center has served its purpose stalwartly over the years, its opaque cylinder looms with an unapproachable austerity, and designing its successor called for innovative thinking.
“The initial idea came from just flipping that building inside out,” says lead project architect Laura Brodersen, who works for global design and architecture firm, Gensler. With an exterior composed entirely of glass, the arena invites Austinites into the space, shining like a beacon at the nexus of Austin’s thriving downtown, East Side and UT campus areas. “What we wanted to do was make it so when there’s an event going on inside the building, it’s well known — you can see the activity,” Brodersen says.
In addition to its primary arena space, Moody Center will also be home to the Dell Technologies Plaza — an outdoor area with food trucks, outdoor bars and lawns to lounge on, along with a smaller stage for live music. The space will host pre-show festivities for concerts, tailgates before basketball and football games, as well as other community events. An outdoor terrace accessible from an upper concourse overlooks the plaza and will also offer outdoor bars and lounging areas.
For the Gensler team, every decision served one mission: “Creating not only a destination for a concert or basketball game, but a full immersive experience that starts when you’re approaching the building,” Brodersen says.
To accomplish that goal, she managed a team of young, inventive architects, which she says served the design well, since it represents a youthful, growing city. Not only are the exterior environs inviting and flexible, but the interior arena is built with multi-faceted purposes in mind. The space is equipped with large, retractable fabric panels that can fold down and completely close off the upper bowl of the arena, providing a more intimate atmosphere for basketball games or smaller concerts.
“Texas vernacular and creating a unique Austin experience were key components to every design aspect,” Brodersen says, of the venue’s interior elements. For example, the South Club takes notes from iconic local music venues like Continental Club and features festoon lights, velvet drapes and leather seating. The VIP Club is intended to be a speakeasy with a semi-hidden entrance. Another club on the event floor takes cues from the weathered oak bars you might find at a honky-tonk or dance hall. Nickler says that the venue’s private boxes also feature a front porch that’s connected to the adjacent boxes, allowing neighbors to venture out and mingle — a design element that harkens back to the friendly, laid-back spirit on which Austin has staked its reputation.
Brodersen says that from the beginning, the team wanted to make the venue reflect and value the community as much a possible. Perhaps the best indicator for that is the enormous 200-year-old live oak trees the architects fought to preserve by transporting them off site and caring for them for the duration of construction. This spring, as the team watched the trees replanted on site, it was clear that despite being a new build, the ethos of the project has roots that stretch down into the bedrock of Austin’s foundation.