Austin’s Star: The Downtown Library

In a matter of weeks a building opens in downtown Austin, Texas, and it’s this building typical of every city that stands apart in subtle ways that distinguish why Austin is an epicenter of our collective future.

Given our work in MediaTech Ventures and my role as a Director of Founder Institute, Dane Kenney, Producer and founder of wefilm3D invited me along to an early tour of the building, and opportunity to experience their work. Dane is one of those entrepreneurs at the leading edge of innovation; Austin based and developing a few ideas that will bring about how we experience the world in the future. In this case he’s working with an amazing technology called Matterport to produce building interior experiences – to let us experience Austin’s new star. If you’ve tried a VR headset or a 360 rendering of a place, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Matterport is considered an all-in-one reality capture system. The Matterport 4k HDR cameras produce immersive 3D spaces that enable an audience to experience real-world places on a traditional browser or using a VR headset. With VR, you get a sense of physically being in a place as more than 360, you can move through the space and continue to look around. It’s easier experienced than explained.

The Austin Central Library

Joe Faulk and Sarah Cronin took some time out of their day to show us around and set Dane up to produce a sample of what can be done for the Library (we’ll share his work when it’s ready). Notable in their showing us around is that the Austin Library system has an incredibly experienced and involved team of IT professionals and developers, engineers including Joe and Sarah, who are creating for Austin a showcase of what’s possible; right at the heart of where downtown Austin is innovative.

East of the LibraryImmediately west of the building is Austin’s Seaholm development, a shining example of a repurposing of urban development to revitalize a community. The former power plant is now home to the fantastic Boiler Nine Bar + Grill, Trader Joe’s, True Food Kitchen, and transformative companies such as Umbel, Athenahealth, and MapMyFitness. North, the Independent, one of Austin’s newest buildings and already an icon affectionately nicknamed The Jenga Tower for its design. A block further puts us right at The Dogwood, regular home to Austin Tech Happy Hour, and other popular West 6th destinations. East is Shoal Creek, with an investment in cleaning up the creek and the grounds, downtown Austin’s Shoal Creek is quickly becoming a popular biking and hiking opportunity to get out of the office. Evident of the Library’s technology prowess, a new bridge takes us right over to 2nd street where we find Austin’s Galvanize and Google’s downtown campus; the bridge can be illuminated to reflect the lighting in or on the library, to celebrate a season or holiday, or to support the outdoor event spaces in the area. To the south, one of the most gorgeous views in Austin, visible from the Library balconies and event spaces: Lady Bird Lake, the Livestrong bike trail, Stevie Ray Vaughn on the water’s edge, and Auditorium Shores and the Palmer Events Center – one can imagine enjoying a book in the rooftop gardens while an outdoor concert plays across the water.

Central Library and BridgeLet me give you a rundown of why I’m so excited about this experience. The main lobby of the library brings to mind M.C. Escher’s Relativity and the ever moving staircases of Hogwart’s; illuminated throughout the day by natural light, the architect and builders have created a destination for residents and tourists in library – grackle art adorns the walls. Briefly beyond that: an art gallery, an event space and concert venue tied to Austin’s ATXN local television and City Hall, a cooking demonstration hall, meeting rooms with Google Hangout teleconferencing, the rooftop garden I mentioned, a teen space with massive Samsung displays for gaming and other engagement, dedicated children’s rooms, and lighting exemplary of Austin’s ongoing work in Smart Homes and IoT.

A bike corral off the creek support hundreds of bicycles to continue making downtown pedestrian friendly while a real live parking garage means that those of us that have to drive can still find a place to get into downtown 😉

Stop by the library not for a good book but the Cook Book, outdoor dining adjacent to Second St. and Shoal Creek Park at the cafe developed by some of Austin’s renown restaurateurs. Or experience so much of what makes Austin innovative even in food with the exceptional number of restaurants in the surrounding blocks.

About the grackles and the Library’s embrace of innovation and media: CAW is a 37’ kinetic sculpture resembling a gigantic cuckoo clock with a swinging pendulum which will be wall-mounted in the atrium. Designed by Christian Moeller, an accompanying LED animation screen featuring a black bird is mounted on the 5th level and a computer program will drive the behavior and gestures of the bird using an artificial life system. This work is inspired in part by Austin’s resident grackle population and by the strong presence such birds have in mythology and literature. The Library’s IT team has been working hard to create this massive lobby display that can feature ongoing concerts and shows, highlight great books, share social media, and more.

Technology Petting ZooThe opening for the Library is set! Books are moving in and entrepreneurs like Dane Kenney are getting involved to help celebrate what the development means for Austin – and for innovation and education. I imagine myself coworking and taking meetings here, conveniently situated as a startup resource to the breadth of entrepreneurship found right in this part of town. One of the experiences that gave me a little chuckle is the Technology Petting Zoo where guests of the library will learn about the care and feeding of Austin’s startup founders. Okay, just kidding, the reality is even better: the Library will feature new technologies that the public can experience and in many cases even check out and use throughout the library.

Saturday, October 28 at 10 AM the opening party starts on the Seaholm lawn next to the library while the doors open to the public at noon. I’ll be there, with my family, a library card, and my VR headset. Curious about what we’re doing in MediaTech Ventures, through Austin? Let’s book our next coffee here as the best example of why we’re doing what we’re doing is evident in the walls of the Austin Central Library.

Comments on Austin’s Star: The Downtown Library

  • M. Johnston M.D.

    This has got to be the most beautiful, state of the art library in the USA as of now. It appears to be an “experience ” just to go there. I’m booking a flight to experience this experience soon.

  • Paul O’Brien

    I was just talking about how kick ass it looks!!

  • Paul O’Brien

    This is awesome Paul. Let’s connect for coffee one of these days!

  • Paul O’Brien

    Absolutely Christopher!

  • Andrew Eye

    Very cool Dane Kenney

  • Oliver Whitham

    I’m against all the sudden interest in grackle art. Those things are pure evil.

  • Adam Cahnman

    And all for the low, low price of $120 million (when they initially told us it wouldn’t go over $90)….

  • Paul O’Brien

    Trust me having experienced it, the economic impact will more than repay that

  • Alicia Dean

    Told ya it was pretty rad! ?

  • Paul O’Brien

    I had no idea how characteristic it was of all we’ve been thinking and talking about Austin!

  • Alicia Dean

    Words don’t really do it justice. I’m so glad you were able to get a sneak peek!

  • Scott Poniewaz

    Can’t wait to get inside! Awesome write up!

  • Robert Clark

    Beautiful structure and landscaping. Austinites should be proud!

  • Paul O’Brien

    It is gorgeous Robert, thanks for adding that! Frankly I can’t wait for the grounds to open and that outdoor setting and the bridge to be a convenient go between and meeting space in Austin’s Google/Galvanize/Seaholm startup district

  • Sara Brinton

    I can’t wait for this!! Our family spends a lot of time at ballet austin and it will be awesome to have this almost next door. Now if we could afford a 3 bedroom downtown…?

  • Janice Ryan

    This is going to be one of my new favs. In my hood.

  • Sunny Alperovitz Olszewski

    A library is the future of Austin – sounds like you’re facing the wrong way on the time continuum.

  • Paul O’Brien

    It does doesn’t it? And yet the most valuable resource in an economy is history and access to information; sounds precisely like the role a library plays.

  • Cathy Holland

    They”re having a bird display? Ahhh…honoring the noble grackle…it’s about time.

  • David Schreiber

    Has the internet not killed the library in well developed cities? Although an altruistic cause, as often with these, I am failing to see ACTUAL beneficial economic impact to the city. Also seems this would be better served in a lower income portion of the city…perhaps?

  • Paul O’Brien

    Good question but I disagree. Coworking and taking meetings there, that’s $400 savings per month. Extensive number of workforce development and technical classes ongoing there – that’s job training. Education and technology exposure for kids is incalculably important – I realize most people these days want to expect schools and home/internet to do all the work but kids thrive around good old fashioned books and experiences with the community. Established hub of the city so as to help develop the surrounding area as a destination and resource – this part of town is where all the real innovation and entrepreneurship, I could argue, is seeing success – the Library there makes that more accessible for many who can’t easily participate otherwise. There is something like 8 event spaces available for public use and just thinking about it as a startup evangelist, the community is burning out on AT&T Conference Center or 6th and Congress with no parking being our only options.

    All of that besides the cultural and appeal it helps establish for Austin. My use of the word “Star” was not unintentional… call it a jewel of the city. It’s cultural center that helps maintain the culture that Austin runs the risk of losing – the concert / event spaces are overlooking the water (forget it being a library, it’s a music venue on park) – the art gallery looks out on Seaholm (forget it being a library, it’s an opportunity to support the Arts) – the teen space is loaded with technology – the bike garage helps make the city pedestrian friendly… etc. etc. etc.

    Libraries largely stopped being about books a long time ago – this one establishes how advanced Austin is thinking.

  • Irina Litchfield

    Super excited about scheduled opening date! We have been waiting so long for it to open. Saved in calendar<3

  • Ricardo Sanchez

    How does a public library cause a substantial impact in the local economy? Not a sarcastic question, I am curious and naive about it. Wouldn’t investing $120 million in small businesses in Austin have the potential of a bigger economic impact?

  • Paul O’Brien

    Can dig some here:

    Generally, the economic impact of civic investment in libraries is 1.5-2 to 1. $1 in results in $2 economic impact.

    Small business investment is a notoriously bad ROI with a very high failure rate. Investing in businesses is a risk investor game. Investing in infrastructure, education, etc. is civic investment with a well studied and established positive economic impact.

    I’m arguing that in this particular case, that impact will be far greater as the location and experience of this library is innovative, culturally characteristic of Austin, and located at the heart of where entrepreneurs are finding success – enabling it to tie those aspects of Austin together better and thrive.

  • Paul O’Brien

    One more thought, forgot to add… Your point that the POTENTIAL of a greater economic impact being in business investment is exactly right though. Cities generally though shouldn’t make that bet though, allocating public money to things likely to fail for the potential of far greater return – that’s what the private sector is for. Cities fund the generally more costly efforts (that investors can’t or won’t fund) that enable the economy

Austin’s Star: The Downtown Library

by Paul O'Brien time to read: 4 min