Rising Up

The Contemporary Austin gets a striking new rooftop addition

Architecture Art Southwest
The Contemporary Austin  Jones Center with protesters for the Women's March in the foreground. (Courtesy of LTL Architects)
The Contemporary Austin Jones Center with protesters for the Women's March in the foreground. (Courtesy of LTL Architects)

In December of last year, New York–based Lewis Tsurumaki Lewis Architects (LTL) completed its renovation of The Contemporary Austin-Jones Center which, among other improvements, includes the freshly inaugurated Moody Rooftop pavilion. The $3 million dollar renovation responds to the enormous growth of the institution and its popular public programming as well as the increasing scale of Austin’s architecture. This project is one in a series of designs that the organization has commissioned in recent years including the ongoing master planning of its sculpture park at Laguna Gloria by Cambridge, Massachusetts–based landscape architecture firm Reed-Hilderbrand.

Since the museum opened its downtown location in 2010, the roof deck has been a central feature of its public engagement strategy and often hosts outdoor film screenings and music performances. This upgrade allows The Contemporary to hold larger events with more control over the open air roof space. LTL designed a deceptively thin roof canopy that hovers 23 feet above the original structure with stark white curtains that can be drawn to enclose the space for year-round use. The museum also moved its administrative office to Laguna Gloria, thereby allowing for Jones Center to double its ground floor area for exhibitions and upgrade its mechanical systems to accommodate a more diverse range of art installations.

The building is situated along Congress Avenue, Austin’s central thoroughfare, with a direct view to the State Capitol, making the museum one of the city’s most visible cultural institutions. Coincidental with the re-opening of the museum was the installation of a text artwork by artist Jim Hodges that wraps the edge of the roof. The piece consists of 27 seven-foot-tall block letters reading “With Liberty and Justice for All” lit from behind and encased with iridescent mirrored surfaces. The eponymously titled piece is in the public gaze at all times and will reportedly remain in place for three years, though the architect re-designed the roof to potentially mount the letters permanently.

Earlier this year, directly following the presidential inauguration, both the building and the art were the backdrop for the Women’s March in Austin, underscoring the social responsibility that cultural institutions have to shape a city’s identity. With cooperation between distinctive architectural design and timely public artwork, the museum aims to vault itself from a sometimes scrappy nonprofit to a growing powerhouse among national art institutions.

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