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Exclusive: Architect involved in Austin's new Google tower outlines considerations that led to unique design

Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects and STG Design partnered on Block 185, which was later claimed by Google for their newest Austin office. (PCPA/One Lux)

Soon, Googlers will head to their workday at the sailboat skyscraper in Downtown Austin, right at the edge of Lady Bird Lake.

The tower, also known as Block 185, is nearing its completion of early summer. In the works for nearly five years, the project came together through grit and calculated design work.




For starters, the project involved digging 30 feet below the water line of the lake, making it the largest below-grade excavation ever done in Austin. On the building itself, a two-story mockup underwent wind and rain tests in Dallas to check for leaks and other possible issues. And finally, with workers designing the building from all over and construction starting right as COVID-19 first ramped up, an “army of drones” circling the building helped the team stay up to date even if they weren’t in Austin.

Excavation for below the tower. (DPR Construction)


The unique shape has gotten a lot of buzz, but the shape was a necessity. The previous land development code for the city required that any projects in that area up against a body of water like a creek, lake or river needed to have a slope down in the form of a 40-degree setback to preserve solar access.

“So because we were in the unique position of being on both (the creek and the river), we had to lay that envelope restriction over the building and that’s what created that interesting sort of pyramidal shape,” Principal of STG Design Jim Stephenson told Austonia.

Mock ups tested for withstanding harsh weather conditions in Dallas, Texas. (STG Design)


Austin-based STG Design paired with Pelli Clarke & Partners, Trammell Crow and DPR Construction in 2017 to start planning the tower—before Google even came on as a tenant of the building. STG Design worked with tech giants in the past, including Oracle, where they just completed work on the new headquarters in Austin.

“As Austin matures, we’re starting to see a lot more of that sophistication that’s been prevalent in New York City, San Francisco, Chicago,” Stephenson said. “So all those ideas and all the specialty that goes into high rises are starting to trickle into the Austin market because obviously, you’re seeing Austin bloom right before your eyes.”

Downtown Austin while the tower was in the works. (DPR Construction)

With Google coming on as a tenant last year, they were drawn in by the outdoor spaces like the terraces, but there were some details and personal touches to add.

For one, minimizing harm to birds. When birds see an opening less than two by four inches, they know their body won’t fit through it, Stephenson said.

Since the building looked to be all glass, it needed lines of frit. That’s the name for an acrylic coating put on the perimeter of the building that will help prevent birds from flying into it.

Construction on the Google tower in February 2021. (Austonia)


The design team also had to consider the Texas heat, which they handled with automatic shades plus solar sunscreens on the curved portion facing west. Sustainability has also been a priority for the building and a LEED Platinum certification is being considered for it, which would be the second downtown tower with this sustainability certification.

With nature handled, Google had other plans for customizing the office space.

Rendering of the complete Google building. (Steelblue)


Originally designed to fit about 1,600 parking spaces, Google decided to use some of the space differently. Instead, it went with the office perks tech giants are famous for: A two-story fitness space with creek views.

Making it easy to get to the office was also a must. They added a bike storage area with showers and e-bikes. The garage is also filled with EV charging stations. And there are transit monitoring stations where people can view bus traffic and someday light rail schedules.

The top of Block 185. (Pelli Clarke & Partners)


Stephenson, who came to college in Austin in the 90s, mentioned the city hadn’t even put up its first big tower by the time he returned just a few years later. He lit up talking about the details of the building and how being part of shaping the Austin skyline has felt like an honor.

“It really finishes a very exciting part of the city, kind of fills in that urban fabric. Second Street is hugely popular with retailers,” Stephenson said. “So getting to put the punctuation point so to speak on such an exciting area of the city and signpost that Austin is taking the next step to becoming a world-class city has been amazing.”

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