Student jury honors W hotel for architecture

Sarah Lawson

In late June, glass fell from balconies at the W Hotel onto the streets of downtown Austin. No pedestrians were injured, and despite these initial problems a group of UT students named the building the best architectural project of 2011.

Architecture professor Wilfried Wang leads an architectural criticism class that annually awards a medal to the best newly completed project in the Austin area. Wang said he created the award to give students more insight into architectural criticism in the real world.

“I have been doing this for 10 years now, and I think it is the most beneficial part of my course because the students really get to apply the knowledge they are learning in class,” Wang said. “I have no influence on the decision of the best project.”

Karl Gleason, secretary of the student-led jury, said the W Hotel was chosen because the jury was impressed with the building’s versatility and how it skillfully combined restaurants, condos, retail space and a hotel into one location.

The School of Architecture hosted an awards ceremony Friday evening. The three finalists left were the W, Arthouse and The Balcones House. Arthouse is a new museum on Congress Avenue which has been trying to bring more art to Austin by providing a new venue for display. The Balcones House is a private residence that is located on the Balcones Fault and uses innovative design to deal with its location, including terraced gardening.

“We started out three weeks ago with 27 different buildings to choose from, and before tonight we narrowed it down to three,” Gleason said. “Our final vote was six to five in favor of [the W].”

Block 21 W Hotel was designed by architecture studio Andersson-Wise. There were a variety of opinions about the finalists at the announcement ceremony. Urban design graduate student Shawn Balon said he thought Arthouse was the best project.

“I enjoy Arthouse because of its human scale and its adaptability to another use — Arthouse is adapted to Congress,” Balon said. “Plus every other Wednesday, they do a film on the rooftop terrace, typically an architectural film.”

Printed on Monday, December 5th, 2011 as: W Hotel wins award for design by architectural criticism class