The Robert Mueller Municipal Airport In Austin, Texas, Has Become A New Urbanist Community, But Its Control Tower Remains A Well-loved Icon.
Architects Fehr & Granger designed an airport terminal for Austin, Texas, that the 1959 P/A Awards jury voted as “the runner-up to the First Design Award,” praising it as “an excellent solution in planning, as well as design expression.” The architects envisioned the terminal as “a large unified shelter providing flexibility and openness,” with 5-foot-deep steel trusses, 24 feet on center, tied together with diamond-shaped trusses that created a scalloped roof. Exterior columns maximized the flexibility of the one-story interior, which had a centralized outdoor court, concourse, and waiting lounge, flanked by ticketing on one side, and a baggage claim area and restaurant on the other. A control tower rose out of the roof of the building.
When Austin moved its airport, this terminal became obsolete and a new mixed-use community began to infill the former airport grounds. The terminal was torn down, but the community’s developers restored the concrete control tower’s light-and-dark-blue porcelain panels, which flare out at the top to provide a base for the former control room.
The replacement of a former airport with a new urbanist community represents a good use of open land near cities, but it also reveals how quickly technology can render airport facilities obsolete. Fehr & Granger, in their awards submission, said that they hoped their terminal would “express something of the spirit of progress which exists in air travel today.” This restored, but unused and somewhat forlorn, control tower, barely 50 years old, shows just what that spirit of progress can mean for older buildings.