City design commission approves schematic design for next phase of Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center

Unanimous approval represents milestone for project, which will transform the lakeside cultural center in downtown Austin


The city of Austin design commission unanimously approved the schematic design for the expansion of the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center (MACC). The plans were presented at the commissions’s Jan. 24 meeting and passed with an amendment to strengthen one connectivity option on the site.

Representatives from Austin-based Miró Rivera Architects and Mexico City-based Tatiana Bilbao Estudio, the two architecture firms leading the $27 million project, and other consultants presented the designs.

Related: ‘Mexican American Cultural Center to begin $27 million expansion plan’

Opened in 2007, the MACC is the only building in the United States designed by the late noted Mexican modernist architect Teodoro González de León, known for his design language in which the then-contemporary International Style and references to the country’s Indigenous cultures coalesced.

Initially planned to encompass three phases in the early 2000s, the current design phase represents a long-awaited opportunity to build from the architectural legacy of González de Leon’s building and bring much needed additional space for programming.

The plans make concrete the “desire of that building to complete itself,” according to lead architect Juan Miró. New construction will extend the arms of the 36,000 square foot building, adding space for the MACC’s multi-faceted cultural programming; the plan also calls for a new a lower level outdoor event space parallel to Lady Bird Lake that will sit below ground-level of the building.

Together, the crescent form of the building and the addition of the lower level will form the bounds of a zócalo, or center square, at the heart of the MACC. The zócalo will also be accentuated by a shade structure and native plantings.

Image: Miró Rivera-Tatiana Bilbao LLC / Ten Eyck Landscape Architects / City of Austin

Other new improvements include new spaces for staff, renovations to the auditorium and its auxiliary spaces, a youth classroom wing, an adult education wing with a multi-purpose room for up to 80 people, a healing garden, a kitchen, music rooms, and more.

The designs respond directly to the needs of MACC staffers as well as an extensive community engagement process, which sought feedback from artists, past and current participants of the center’s youth educational programming, legacy stakeholders of the MACC and community leaders, and the wider public during open meetings.

Image: Miró Rivera-Tatiana Bilbao LLC / Ten Eyck Landscape Architects / City of Austin

The project also contends with a changed and changing context in Austin’s downtown. The facility’s nearest neighborhood, Rainey Street, was home to a working-class Mexican American community until the early 2000s. That residential community was wholly displaced after the city changed the area’s zoning designation in 2004 to allow condos, bars, and restaurants as approved uses on the street.

Nearby are many of Austin’s urban attractions: the MACC’s lawn accommodates a stretch of the Butler Hike and Bike Trail, overlooks Lady Bird Lake and to its east will be the next phase of Waterloo Greenway, as well as continued growth of tall buildings on Rainey Street.

The new phase of the MACC affirms “its importance for the Mexican-American and Hispanic community,” in Austin said Miró. “This can be a critical part of civic spaces in Austin, as impactful as the [Central] library. And it can bring a level of connection to the community at large that transforms what the MACC’s visibility can be.”

Penny Snyder
Penny Snyder
Penny is a writer and communicator who is invested in ideas of the public and access to art, architecture, and livable cities. She graduated from Wesleyan University in 2016, with high honors for her thesis examining how neoliberal urban development around new museum buildings weakened public space.

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