The implosion of the Ashbel Smith Hall building will interrupt the mellow, Sunday-morning mood this weekend in downtown Austin. Traffic near Lavaca and Sixth Street is expected to be more congested than usual due to the demolition occurring in the early morning hours. Typically, demolitions provoke protest from citizens who are sentimentally attached to the building, but no one seems too upset about the leveling of Ashbel Smith Hall.
“We don’t always need to clutch our pearls when something old downtown comes up for demolition,” wrote James Rambin, author of an online realty blog. Rambin compared the building to a toaster, deriding its boxy shape and two small roof vents poking out the top.
Once used by The University of Texas as office space after being built in the 1970s, the building’s Brutalist architecture juts out among a skyline of shiny, new skyscrapers. The City of Austin Historic Landmark Commission provided a dismal assessment of the structure’s contribution to the life of the city:
“The building does not appear to possess architectural distinction. […] The building does not possess a unique location, physical characteristic, or significant feature that contributes to the character, image, or cultural identity of the city, the neighborhood, or a particular demographic group. […] The property is not a significant natural or designed landscape with artistic, aesthetic, cultural, or historical value to the city.” —City of Austin Historic Landmark Commission, September 25, 2017
The building must be imploded to mitigate the negative effects of demolition on the surrounding area and to speed up the process. After being demolished, developer Trammell Crow plans to build a 37-story tower with office, restaurant and retail uses, costing $1.6 million per year to rent.