©2011 Thomas McConnell

When former Austin, Texas, mayor Will Wynn set a goal in 2005 for having 25,000 new downtown residents by 2015, locally based Benchmark Development more than did its part. The company purchased a parcel at Congress Avenue and Second Street that offered views of the state capitol building, proximity to Lady Bird Lake and its trails, and a location in the heart of the area’s best shopping and restaurants. “We’d been looking for property in the area for 10 years and felt the best use for this site was a residential tower,” says David Mahn, Benchmark’s vice president. The company instructed Houston-based Ziegler Cooper Architects to follow Austin Energy Green Building (AEGB) standards. When The Austonian, a 56-story, 166-unit glass, precast-concrete, and stone tower (currently the city’s tallest building), opened in June, it earned a four-star rating from AEGB, making it the only downtown high-rise to achieve that status (comparable to a U.S. Green Building Council LEED-Gold rating).

To enable the tower to fit the skinny site, the architects designed the building in an elliptical shape, architect Kurt Hull says. For energy and water conservation, there are drought-tolerant plants; a shade canopy formed by two 300-gallon trees; a high-efficiency irrigation system that collects water from the building’s HVAC system; a reflective roof; high-performing insulated glass with a low-E coating; and a vegetated shade canopy over a street-level dining terrace. More thoughtful choices were to preserve and incorporate the façade of a historic blacksmith shop that had been on the site and to recycle 87 percent of construction waste rather than send it to a landfill.

Among The Austonian’s novel perks are a 10th-floor recreation area with a dog park that features synthetic grass atop an engineered drainage layer as well as a “Texas-style” backyard, with a 75-foot-long saltwater lap pool, hot tub, grills, fireplaces, cabanas with flat-screen TVs, and a sunset-viewing terrace, says Eric Schultz, a senior associate at TBG Partners in Austin, which designed The Austonian’s landscape architecture.

The long list of amenities has helped sell 40 percent of the condos, which range from $500,000 (for 1,200 square feet) to $9 million (for 8,300 square feet).