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06-24-22 | Feature

From Parking Lot to Campus Gateway

Austin Community College, Highland Campus
Information contributed by Rachel Brehm, dwg.

Set on an 85-acre site, Austin Community College's Highland Campus redesigned the former site of the dilapidated Highland Mall to include the multi-use, Fontaine Plaza. Named after Reverend Jacob Fontaine, the plaza focuses on inclusion and environmentally savvy practices, such as reduced water usage through native plantings like inland seaoats (Chasmanthium latifolium) and bicolor iris (Dietes bicolor) respectively below.
Set on an 85-acre site, Austin Community College's Highland Campus redesigned the former site of the dilapidated Highland Mall to include the multi-use, Fontaine Plaza. Named after Reverend Jacob Fontaine, the plaza focuses on inclusion and environmentally savvy practices, such as reduced water usage through native plantings like inland seaoats (Chasmanthium latifolium) and bicolor iris (Dietes bicolor) respectively below.
The Highland Mall officially closed in 2015. The original space was covered in asphalt and featured small planting spaces for the 17 oak trees that were saved in the redesign.
Commissioned by dwg, the 73 light poles are set at various heights from 3' to 20' to add depth. This light focal point changes colors every 20 minutes through state-of-the-art choreography. The purple lights were designed to mimic a colony of bats flying together. The campus plantings include dwarf blue-stem palmetto (Sabal minor) and liriope (Liriope muscari 'Gigantea')
Commissioned by dwg, the 73 light poles are set at various heights from 3' to 20' to add depth. This light focal point changes colors every 20 minutes through state-of-the-art choreography. The purple lights were designed to mimic a colony of bats flying together. The campus plantings include dwarf blue-stem palmetto (Sabal minor) and liriope (Liriope muscari 'Gigantea')
Under the large oaks, reclaimed steel beams were used to create benches that sit among Landscape Forms picnic tables and various other amenities. Custom soil mixes were used to plant the native Texas plantings. Concrete unit pavers and integral colored concrete lines the vegetation to allow for pathways.

In 2014, the Austin Community College district (ACC) called upon studio dwg to create a signature gateway to Austin Community College's Highland Campus called Fontaine Plaza. The 1-acre site had been a part of the now defunct Highland Mall, dominated by parking lots, and has since been refocused solely on the pedestrian experience.

Named after the Reverend Jacob Fontaine, the plaza was meant to commemorate the freedman, civil leader, church founder, and educator while incorporating the adaptive reuse of reclaimed materials and low-impact design.

Studio dwg mixed art, technology, sustainable principles, and the lifestyle of students to create outdoor rooms that connect the adjacent developments. Steel beams from the old mall were given a new life and are now useful benches. The project also achieved an 85 percent reduction in impervious cover from the old parking lot and, as a result, established the capacity to intercept and absorb up to 400,000 gallons of stormwater annually.

Plantings

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Native Texas plants were added throughout the project to reduce water use by 75 percent. The 17 large, heritage live oaks that once lined the entry drive are now thriving, providing shade, while dwarf palmettos, Aztec grass, and turkscap replaced the asphalt roadway. The large heritage live oaks were preserved, not only due to city requirements, but additionally because they are an amenity to the overall park providing shade, enhanced microclimates, and instantly making the park feel as though it has been part of the community for a long time.

Lighting the Way Through the Thicket
Entering from Airport Blvd., an iconic art lighting installation called the "Thicket," marks the entrance of the new gateway. Commissioned by dwg and varying in height from 3' to 20', 73 poles are meant to invoke the sense of bats taking flight, paying homage to the ACC's River Bat mascot, R.B. Bbhoggawact. During the day, the poles all appear to be the same purple as is R.B. until the setting sun reveals an internal glow. Then three times every hour a choreographed light show subtly entertains the passersby.

The Feel of the Plaza
The way the design is laid out provokes the feeling of "rooms" which are created through the negative and positive spaces within the project. Seating areas were tucked between plantings, and paving materials such as decomposed granite or pavers were integrated to provide separation evoking the feeling of being in a distinct space or room.

From the iconic entry art, the repurposed materials, the creative use of hardscapes and the shade of long-lived trees, dwg was able to transform this small part of the Old Highland Mall's original 85-acre site from a lifeless parking lot into Fontaine Plaza, a community gathering place, intune with the area's numerous parks, evoking the city's rich history and exemplifying the tactical vision of turning "parking lots into parks."

Team list
Lead Designer and Landscape Architect - dwg.
Civil Engineer - Big Red Dog (now WGI)
MEP Engineer - Bay and Associates
Structural Engineer - Cardno (now Stantec)
General Contractor - Strata Landscape
Lighting Fabrication - Ion Art
Irrigation Consultant - James Pole Irrigation Consultants

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