One of the projects we’re most proud of is our work for The Independent residential luxury tower in downtown Austin, Texas. It features 80 pieces of commissioned art from 23 artists and has garnered international recognition for its interiors from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), among others. Read on to learn what it was like to put together such a large-scale art acquisition project.
The Independent is a luxury condominium skyscraper located in downtown Austin, Texas that opened its doors in 2019. At 58 stories and 694 feet, it was touted “the tallest building west of the Mississippi” upon its completion. The architect and interior designers for the building are Rhode Partners in Austin, Texas and the building was developed by Aspen Heights and CIM Group. The building features 363 residences and over 20,000 square feet of amenities spanning two levels of the building.
One of the most striking features of The Independent is that it’s composed of four sections cantilevered around a central circulation core so that each floor plan is oriented for the best possible view. From afar, the building looks like blocks stacked atop one another, which gave rise to such nicknames as the Jenga tower and the Tetris building.
With 363 homes to sell in a highly competitive market, the development team knew they had to do more than provide spectacular views. They had to approach the interiors with as much intention as the architecture and take the livability factor to the next level.
From the beginning, architect Brett Rhode and his team had a vision of The Independent as a neighborhood in the sky. Each cantilevered tier would have its own curated interior, but the entire building would feel cohesive overall.
Instead of the interiors covering up the essence of the building, it would be a marriage between the interiors and the architecture. In Rhode’s own words, he wanted a “democratic conversation” between the two about structure and interiors, form and function.¹ This resulted in leaving some of the structural components exposed inside the building. Like the crisscross, metal support beams apparent throughout the building that become sculpture-like elements in the space.
We began talking with the development team about art acquisition for The Independent about two and half years before completion of the project. It was clear they didn’t want any artwork that was purely decorative. Nothing that felt like hotel art. People were going to live in this building and the team wanted the kind of thought-provoking artwork you’d buy for your home.
The other aspect of the brief was to continue this concept of the inside and outside of the building speaking to each other. We were looking for art that was textural and dimensional and had movement. To match the building that, thanks to the dynamic cantilever architecture, looks different from every angle.
To satisfy the brief, they needed commissioned artwork. That meant finding the right artists to create unique pieces that really fit each space. For a project of this magnitude, that’s a huge undertaking. All told, Art + Artisans coordinated with over 23 local, national, and international artists to produce over 80 pieces of art for the building.
Luckily, we started planning for art early which gave us plenty of time for a project of that size. We were able to properly research artists, advise the client on structure and lighting for the artwork, and give their top choices plenty of time for the art production process. In short, we were able to come up with the best pieces for the project in the most cost-effective way possible for our client.
Wooden Textile Wall
In the lobby of The Independent is a dynamic textile wall comprised of walnut and composite wood tiles that lend warmth to the metal and concrete surfaces in the space while also nodding to Lady Bird Lake and the hike and bike trail outside. Viewed straight-on, the piece almost looks flat. But the undulating wood shifts perspective as you walk around and move through the lobby.
Brushed Sheet-Metal Installation
The vision for the lobby of The Independent was to have a balanced conversation between materials. The art is striking, but not overwhelming because the other interior elements are so spectacular and we want all of them to play together. Behind the front desk is a custom, aluminum sheet-metal installation with a finish that ranges from very high to more brushed, so that it takes on different dimensions depending on your vantage point.
Abstract Line Painting
This custom, 16′ x 4′ diptych in black, white, grey, and gold is an abstract line painting commissioned for the club room of The Independent. It calls upon the vast Texas sky and beautiful rolling hills around Austin to complement the fun and relaxed design of the club room.
Wall-Mounted Abstract Sculpture
In this wall-mounted, abstract sculpture, strips of upholstery vinyl are hung over a wooden peg and supported by an unseen metal rod. The artist commissioned to make this sculpture for The Independent employs simple industrial materials to investigate people’s relationships with the built environment.
Three-Dimensional, Linear Installation
This three-dimensional, linear installation is made with 1” nylon webbing and aluminum channel. It hangs in a corridor of The Independent and measures 40’ x 4’ x 3½’. The humble, everyday materials used in the piece create permeable forms and encompassing environments that respond to, interact with, and are supported by the surrounding architecture.
In 2021, The Independent received an Interior Design Award of Excellence from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitats (CTBUH), a global authority on urban density and vertical growth.² The CTBUH Annual Awards program recognizes projects and individuals around the world that make extraordinary contributions to the advancement of tall buildings and the urban environment while achieving sustainability at the highest and broadest level. The buildings highlighted represent the best qualities and innovations in the typology with special emphasis on the impact that they have on the people who use them each day.
From the CTBUH website, the Interior Design award, “recognizes tall building projects that have integrated extraordinary interior spaces within, which demonstrate exceptional functional success in terms of the user experience and take the solutions and possibilities for interior space design to the next level.”
The Independent was one of eight other international projects to receive the Award of Excellence for Interior Design and the only one from the United States.
At the time of this writing, The Independent is still the tallest building in Austin, though that won’t last too much longer with the amount of taller buildings already in the pipeline.³ But the unique cantilever form of The Independent ensures it will remain a landmark of the Austin skyline. And the conversation continues among the intentional details throughout the building’s interiors. We’ve been told that in surveys of The Independent’s residents, art is always one of the top reasons they say they love living in the building.
The Independent will always be one of the favorite projects of our careers. We loved working with so many different artists and with a development team that truly understood what art can contribute to a project.
- The Independent Wins Award of Excellence from CTBUH [Rhode Partners]
- CTBUH Award of Excellence Presentation [Rhode Partners]
- Tour the Independent, Austin’s new tallest tower [Curbed Austin]
- First look: Inside Austin’s tallest tower, The Independent, as move-ins ratchet up [Austin Business Journal]
- The Independent by Rhode Partners is Austin’s tallest skyscraper [dezeen]
- A Look at the West’s Tallest Residential Tower [Multifamily Executive]
- GALLERY: The Independent debuts as Austin’s tallest tower [Community Impact]
- Austin then and now: A look inside ‘The Independent‘ [Fox7 Austin]
- Austin’s Tallest Residential Tower Is on Track for LEED Gold [Metropolis]
- Partners, R. (2021, April 25). The Independent – The Council on Tall Buildings [Video]. Vimeo. https://vimeo.com/541312738#t=463s
- Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. (2021). Winners | CTBUH Awards. CTBUH. https://awards.ctbuh.org/winners/?category=interior-design-award#tabs-finalists
- Thompson, B. (2022, August 15). More than 20 towers set to change Austin’s skyline. Community Impact. https://communityimpact.com/austin/central-austin/2022/05/23/more-than-20-towers-set-to-change-austins-skyline/