Program: Immersive history exhibits, collections storage, 3D IMAX, 4D special effects theater, lobby, cafe, gift shop, function spaces, classrooms, exhibit support, and offices
Building Area: 185,000 sf
Status: Opened in 2001
Description: In early 1998, VernerJohnson was selected to design the new Texas State History museum on a key site in the Capitol District of downtown Austin. The firm had just completed a comprehensive master plan which established the project’s facility program, budgets, staffing requirements, as well as the siting and internal massing relationships for the new building.
Throughout the master plan and design process, we worked closely withthe exhibit designers to insure that architectural and exhibit experience enhanced and strengthened each other. The central theme for this museum is to tell the “Story of Texas” through an engaging and immersive visitor experience. Texas history is bursting with colorful heroic characters. Their legendary stories are told in a one-of-a-kind “Spirit of Texas” multi-media theater. A 400 seat 3D IMAX Theater offers another venue for illustrating the emotional stories and sweeping beauty of Texas, past and present. 60,000 square feet of multi-level exhibit areas are distributed over three levels in the heart of the building. The upper level of exhibits wrap around a 110-foot high central rotunda space that is capped by a copper-clad dome. The dome and rotunda element is the key focal point for the building, serving as the central interior orientation space and signaling the entrance from the plaza.
The building’s exterior expression takes its cues from the Texas State Capitol Building, the main symbol of Texas located a few blocks away and well within view. The siting and massing of the Museum is orchestrated to form a gateway entrance to the capitol complex. Its massing steps back at this important corner site to frame better views of the Capitol as well as to create a welcoming urban plaza space at the Museum’s entrance. Its grand, civic aesthetic is intended to harmonize with the historical architectural character of the Capitol Building. An undulating arched arcade forms a rich edge to the plaza, offering shade and cover to visitors entering the facility. The facades are clad in locally quarried granite. Pilasters, stepped cornices, balconies and arcades are used to create a dignified, substantive character that is appropriate to the Museum’s stature and setting.
Since its opening in 2001, this Museum has consistently been one of Texas’ most popular destinations, serving its vast audience of families, school groups, individuals, businesses and tourists.