ACC Highland Campus, Phase II

Austin, Texas
Breathing New Life into an Abandoned Mall

The Highland Mall was a bustling commercial center, and then it was a cavernous, 700,000-square-foot shell. Austin Community College seized the shuttered real estate to create a cohesive campus for its specialty programs. We joined the project for Phase II: a transformation of the former mall’s central portion into a business incubator, health sciences simulation center, multimedia art gallery, and culinary arts center, among other spaces serving a dozen ACC programs.

In partnership with Barnes Gromatzky Kosarek Architects, we took on several challenges. One was accommodating the unique needs of each discipline. Another, correcting shortcomings of 1970s mall construction. Then there was turning the double-high atrium with no natural light into an open, inviting site that inspires interdisciplinary collaboration and active interaction with the local community.

The project provides state-of-the-art training facilities for some of the region’s most in-demand jobs while serving as a model of adaptive reuse that reanimates vacant structures and their immediate vicinities.

The Vision
A New Take On Community College

The design of the ACC Highland Campus successfully consolidates so many hands-on academic departments—culinary arts, nursing and health science, animation, filmmaking, architecture, engineering, music production, sound design—to cite just a few—and incubators to boot. All in one building. These departments’ locations and proximity create opportunities for the cross-pollination of their activities to benefit students and community alike. It has become a place of social infrastructure for the many first-generation students who attend.

“We are trying to match the community that lives here to the opportunities that exist....this phase II transformation may be the most exciting thing that’s happening in this city."

—Steve Adler, Mayor, City of Austin

Initial parti sketches explored how students and faculty could experience the space.
One of the most striking elements of the design is the dramatic cross-sectioning of the mall that split its footprint in two and removed a slice. The Paseo is the resulting open-air space, and its entire length is a destination.
BEHIND THE DESIGN
The Paseo

The Paseo connects students to nature, and the school to the community, putting learning on display. For example, Eatery 73—the restaurant operated by ACC’s culinary arts program—is open to the public for indoor or outdoor dining. Also featured is the auditorium, a black box theater, a dance studio, and an art gallery. Dinner and a play? Take in the gallery at intermission? Options mere feet apart.

Deemed the Jewel Box, the space features black steel framing and glass reclaimed from the former mall.
The Jewel Box serves as a collaborative study and social space.

Project Team

People
Angela Whitaker-Williams
People
Ron Stelmarski
People
Gardner Vass