It’s hard not to notice 905 as you stroll north along Congress Avenue towards the State Capitol Building in Austin, Texas. The building stands as a long-time contributor to the character of the Congress Avenue Historic district and officially became recognized as a local Historic Landmark in 2020. Comprised of a 1930’s era Art Deco façade sculpted from local limestone, the building stands at only two stories tall as a strong but humble piece of architecture.
Nelsen Partners purchased and moved its Austin headquarters to 905 in 2002 and began officing at the address after making several small interior improvements. About a decade later, another minor interior renovation was completed. But for years after, the firm recognized that a more extensive renovation of the beloved building would be necessary to support the firm’s growth and create a better working environment more suitable to the needs of the architectural practice. By 2019, the building systems and retrofits, having been operational for several decades, began to meet the end of their lifecycle and were falling far behind the industries technological improvements. In 2020, the unexpected pivot to remote work provided the firm with the opportunity to make these significant design and systems upgrades without disrupting the busy architectural practice.
The aesthetic and the environment of the office needed to be elevated to match the quality of the firm’s work product and focus on design. Thoughtful interventions within the constraints of existing conditions made for opportunities for expression and a new character. Existing stairs were reimagined, reused and re-detailed. Old walls, structures, and materials were re-exposed. The historic features of the interior detailing were repaired. Reflecting the firm’s care for the built environment meant giving the building the ability to tell its story while creating a new.
A primary goal of the design was to create a healthier and more sustainable work environment. This was achieved by providing more space between desks and expanding the second-floor studio into multiple spaces and sizing the meeting rooms and tables for a bit more space per occupant. New materials and finishes were selected for their sustainable and health related benefits, which attribute to greater indoor air quality. A full update to mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems were implemented for a healthier and less energy intensive historic building. Furthermore, LED lighting and energy recovery units allowed for greater amounts of fresh air and ample light without sacrificing energy efficiency and improving environmental health for the firm’s staff.
The functionality and narrowness of the 22’ x 160’ building was reimagined to create greater flexibility, additional spaces for collaborative meetings, and provide a layout that served the firm’s work and process. A curated materials and resource library was implemented as a central element within the studio space to allow the teams to conveniently coordinate and contemplate the material selections of their projects. Elimination of private offices allowed for additional meeting spaces for collaboration and places to gain privacy when needed. Flexible work areas at both the first and second floor now allow for overflow meeting space and areas to work casually through-out the day as opposed to only at a studio desk. Allowing spaces to have dual purpose or overlap in program created an openness that lends itself to collaboration and socialization.
Nelsen Partners’ culture is social and close knit; with teams often choosing to gather during the lunch hour and enjoy each other’s company. The relocated break area, sized large enough for the daily congregation, draws daylight from a renovated carriage opening fronting the alley. This light pours deep into the space, bringing warmth and energizing qualities which extend into to the model room and printing areas for the office.
Completed in 2021, the renovated headquarters is a platform for and of design, allowing the firm’s practice and culture to flourish every day.
To learn more about the project visit 905 Congress project page.