Mexican American Cultural Center to begin $27 million expansion plan

Austin-based Miró Rivera Architects and Mexico City-based architect Tatiana Bilbao will lead the design of the project


The city of Austin announced today that work will begin on a $27 million facility expansion project for the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center (ESB-MACC).

The project calls for general renovations to the existing facility as well as building out the building’s distinctive original crescent design to provide additional amenities. Numerous site improvements include a “Gran Entrada” or entrance to the ESB-MACC complex which sits on downtown city parkland where Waller Creek empties into Lady Bird Lake at the terminus of Rainey Street.

Austin-based Miró Rivera Architects and Mexico City-based architect Tatiana Bilbao will lead the design of the project.

When the ESB-MACC was initially designed in 2000 by the late renowned Mexican architect Teodoro González de León and local firm CasaBella Architects, a master plan called for three phases of development. The current facility, with its striking white stone exterior,  opened in 2007, represents just the first phase.

However, as the center’s programmatic function have expanded, ESB-MACC staff and parks department leaders say that too often there’s insufficient space. An overhaul to existing building and an expansion is needed to better serve the needs of the Mexican American, Native American, Chicano and other Latinx cultures the center supports.

The Phase 2 plan will nearly triple the amount of existing building space (roughly 36,000 square feet) by adding roughly 68,500 square feet and rearranging existing spaces for more efficient use.

The center’s current gallery, for example, has several problems including too much natural light from the skylights and space that’s too small for the exhibiting and preparation of current exhibitions. A new, larger gallery will be in a more publicly-accessible location in the complex and feature controlled lighting to protect art work as well as exhibition prep and storage space, a gallery store, and offices.

Also, the existing multipurpose auditorium will be upgraded to a 150-seat theater with dressing rooms, prop prep room, storage and other support spaces. A smaller black box performance space will similarly get improvements to reduce outside noise and expand support/backstage space.

More classrooms — including a teaching kitchen — are also planned.

Likewise, with the surrounding Rainey Street neighborhood now a busy entertainment and residential zone, there’s more demand for connecting the ESB-MACC to neighboring streets and sidewalk as well to as to the hike and bike trails along Lady Bird Lake. New shade structures, more landscaping, a potential redesign of the plaza, and additional parking round out a strategy for improving the site.

The city is currently seeking the public’s input on the project. To submit a comment go to

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
An award-winning arts journalist, Jeanne Claire van Ryzin is the founder and editor-in-chief of Sightlines.

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