By Marcy Marro, Editor
This month's Top Honors column features the
Cotton Gin at the CO-OP District in Hutto, Texas. The project is a
wonderful example of how a city took buildings that spoke to its
past, and updated and modernized them in a way that provides a
beacon for its future.
I spoke with architect Michael S. Antenora, AIA, founding
principal of Antenora Architects LLP in Austin, Texas, and
he shared some more insight into the city's plans for the future,
as well as what they did with the Cotton Gin project.
According to Antenora, the project is actually the culmination
of seven or eight years of work, starting with a citywide facility
needs assessment. "We went in and looked at all of the buildings in
the city of Hutto and then made an assessment of their future
needs," he explains. "At the time, they were the fastest growing
city in the U.S., and so we were looking at what they had currently
and what needed for the next period of time based upon continued
After the facility needs assessment, Antenora Architects did a
preliminary design for a new city hall, in which they were going to
try and incorporate the north and south gin buildings. "The reality
was that they weren't really buildings at all, but were more like
big metal tents," Antenora says. "They were just there to keep the
cotton gin machinery dry and out of the weather. There was no
insulation. They were basically open-air buildings. And because of
that, to try and make them work would have been very
The city wanted to keep the cotton gins because of its history.
The cotton gin building was a common landmark for citizens, as one
of the main streets, Farley Street, goes through downtown and
terminates at that building. And, as Antenora explains, the
building represents the city's culture for the last century. "Hutto
was essentially a farming community and this building was
emblematic and iconic to them, as it was their past. And they
didn't want to lose that," he says.
There were several different proposals for what to do with the
buildings, including disassembling both buildings and reassembling
them as a part of a new City Hall, farther to the west so there was
a green space in front of it. "Later, the proposal was modified to
leave the one of the buildings in place, and simplify it, clarify
it, and modernize it," Antenora says. "The idea was to make it a
pure architectural shape, almost like a steel prism."
Ultimately, the designers took the best of both buildings to
make one building. "The real beauty of that building is that it has
a set of steel trusses that were put together with rivets back in
the 1940s, and they're really beautifully made," Antenora explains.
"There's a repetitiveness to it that makes the ceiling in there
almost like a cathedral. It's very, very striking. And you couldn't
see it at first when all the machinery was in there, and all the
extra mezzanines and walkways and things, but once you stripped all
of that out, it became this really beautiful repetitive pattern of
trusses. And that was what we were trying to get to. The elemental
essential basic quality of the building was what made it the most
beautiful; getting it down to its sparest parts."
A Glowing Box
The building features stainless steel, regular mill steel that's
been painted, galvanized steel, and shop-finished steel sheet
metal. "We had to be able to interweave identical shapes that
matched the old structure but allowed the building to now meet
current code," he explains. "The real challenge was to brace and
stiffen the building so that it met current building code, but not
lose the delicacy and elegance of what the original building looked
Since the building faces directly south, Antenora says they
wanted a material that could reflect the sun during the day, and
also draw attention to the building. "We had this idea of a glowing
box," he says. "The stainless steel was the way to make the box
glow during the day by reflecting the sun. It doesn't just reflect
the light, but it reflects the color of the light. If it's a cloudy
day, the metal will look white or blue. If it's a warm, sunny day,
especially at sunrise or dusk, the building will take on these warm
reddish and orangish hues.
"Then at night, we wanted to have a very modest lighting scheme
that would be enough so the building would glow at night. And the
perforated metal was a way for us to do that. We tested several
different perforation patterns to find out the maximum amount of
perforations we could have so the light would go through it at
night, and it would still reflect it on the outside during the day.
And that's a critical part of why this design looks the way that it
does. And it's very successful. It's a striking building all day
long, and all night long."
While the perforated metal makes up one side of the Cotton Gin,
the other three sides are solid, which allow the building to be
used even when there's a cool breeze blowing. "The open side of the
building is the south side, so the wind can travel through the
building, and it's actually very cool in there even when it's 105
degrees outside," Antenora explains. "The combination of the breeze
that's coming through the perforated metal, and the shade that that
building provides, it will be anywhere from 15 to 25 degrees cooler
inside that space than it is outside."
Antenora says he's heard from the former mayor and city council
members that people passing through the town are stopping and
looking at the building because it's so simple and striking. "The
entire point was for the building to draw attention to itself so it
can be a catalyst for the development over the next five to 10
years," he says.