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The Coolest Commercial Buildings in Austin

February 11, 2020

Austin is unique — the kind of unique that makes Austinites feel special just for living here. There are so many elements that make Austin cool, from the bat bridge to food trailers to stand-up paddleboarding. In fact, with so many amazing aspects to our city, we sometimes overlook the gems in plain sight on our walk to get breakfast tacos.

No, we’re not talking about armadillos. We are talking about the many cool commercial buildings that make Austin . . . well . . . Austin.

The Driskill Hotel

This ornate Romanesque Revival building covers half a block at the heart of Sixth Street. Built in 1886 with red brick and white limestone, the Driskill has a striking facade that matches its dramatic history. 

Hosting fetes for Texas governors, speeches by U.S. presidents, and more weddings than anyone could count, the Driskill has seen it all. Some say the building is haunted, but how could a building full of so much life not have a few ghosts? 

In 1969 it was saved from near demolition by a listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Today, Austin’s oldest hotel is on stable ground with 189 guest rooms and suites, multiple event spaces, a restaurant, a bar, and a cafe. 

The next time you’re on Sixth Street, consider taking an extra moment to appreciate the grand design of the columned porticos and carved longhorns gracing an Austin classic.   

Seaholm Power Plant

Another classic building that has made its mark on Austin is the Seaholm Power Plant. Built next to Town Lake in 1951, Seaholm provided electric power to Austin until 1989. 

Though its power days are over, Seaholm’s sleek Art Moderne design makes it a monument to Austin’s mid-century growth. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2013, the same year that builders broke ground on its redesign.

Today the Seaholm Power Plant houses offices, restaurants, residences, and retail space. Its utilitarian structures have been converted to an unconventional campus with easy access from downtown and Town Lake.    

Torchy’s Tacos South Congress

When Fran’s Hamburgers closed its South Congress location in 2013, many mourned the passing of an Austin legend. But the demolition of the burger shop made way for a remarkable new structure that tied its own roots to those of its predecessor. 

The site became the new home of Torchy’s Tacos, and the space wows everyone in the SoCo neighborhood. Building off of Fran’s homage to southern California’s drive-in style, Torchy’s brings the taco stand to the next level.

The open-air design of the space gives it the feel of being outdoors and serves as a callback to Torchy’s food trailer origins. The geometric shape provides ample space for windows and skylights to bring in all that Austin sunshine. 

The bright reds and mix of concrete, wood, steel, glass, and tile give the restaurant a sense of fun that is a perfect fit for the eclecticism of South Congress.    

Frost Bank Tower

Though the base of the Frost Bank Tower covers an entire city block, the spiky glass crown at its top is what makes this building particularly spectacular. An icon in the Austin skyline, the Frost Bank Tower was the tallest building in Austin from 2004 to 2008.

There is much speculation about the shape of the building, leading to conspiracy theories around the architect’s intent. Some say it looks like an artichoke; others see a giant owl watching over the city. 

Whatever shape it appears to be, it is undeniable how striking the tower looks when the sun goes down. The award-winning lighting design for the building makes it a downtown beacon. Finding the Frost Bank Tower can be especially helpful if you’ve become disoriented in a crowd during SXSW.

Like the building’s shape, its glass finish is something special. Glimpsing the tower’s blue glass exterior shimmering like a 33-story waterfall in the middle of downtown may give you goosebumps even on a summer day. 

The Independent

The newest building on this list currently holds the title of Austin’s tallest building. But it is not just height that makes the Independent remarkable.

The building’s nicknames, Jenga Tower and Tetris Tower, are apt for the tower’s off-kilter shape. With floors that seem to float, the building draws the eyes up to the top of its airy 58 stories.

It’s also not surprising that the Independent’s nicknames both refer to popular games. The tower brings a playful weightlessness to the cityscape of the Violet Crown. By keeping it weird, the Independent captures Austin’s lightheartedness.

These buildings are just a few examples of how Austin cool has been shaped by its commercial landscape. The right building in the right place makes for a powerful statement! 

Ready to start a commercial project that matches your mission? Contact us today to learn how the Austin contractors at Paradisa can help you make your commercial property as special as the city we call home.