The End of Austin

an exploration of urban identity in the middle of Texas

The Rise

The Austin skyline is punctuated by cranes and rebar and silhouettes of future buildings in every direction you look.  I work downtown at 301 Congress Avenue, a building constructed in the 1970s, clearly predating the downtown revitalization underway today.  In the fall of 2012, construction began on my building’s new neighbor: the JW Marriott hotel at 2nd and Congress.  This photograph was taken from my office window in December of 2012 after the future Marriott site had been converted from a parking lot into an earthen pit.

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My coworkers and I watched as this building rose from nothingness and crept slowly upwards.  It has been fascinating to see the progress over time.  Nothing much ever seemed to happen in the course of one of our eight-hour workdays, but when I came back to the office after being out a whole week, the upward progress was evident and incredible.

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I have worked at my job since January of 2011, the second semester of my freshman year at the University of Texas.  In that time, I’ve seen very few things ‘stir the pot’ in this office as much as the construction of this building has.  My coworkers and I often spent sizable chunks of time during the day watching the workers on the site.  We gasped in apprehension as we saw the cranes sway in the wind, and ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ in reverence as the operators remained at their posts in the face of stormy skies.  We discussed at length the challenges of spending extended periods in the crane’s “cockpit”; particularly the logistics of using restroom facilities at such great heights.  When a particularly heavy beam of iron or wall segment was being hoisted into the air, we called other colleagues out of their offices to come and watch.  Observing this process has been a shared experience in my corner of the office.  We commiserated about the cruelty of it all as we unhappily awaited the day that the Marriott’s bulk would eclipse our view of Ladybird Lake.  Other important milestones in the construction process include the day we came eye-to-eye with the workers on the building, as well as the day we had to look UP to see the top of the building instead of down.  I can no longer take a good photo of the Marriott from my office given its size but here it is from across Congress Avenue, closer than ever to completion.

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When I look out my window at the building today, I can’t believe that this structure was once a dirt pit filled with construction equipment the size of Legos and construction workers the size of ants.  Things change quickly around here.  My office building, a place that has been so important to me for the past three years, is a fraction of the size of most of the new developments arising.  I picture a not-so-distant future where it is only a sliver in a tall, long skyline.  My time at the University of Texas is quickly coming to a close and I don’t know what my life will look like next year, or the year after that, or five years from now.  I don’t know what my Austin skyline will look like next year, or the year after that, or five years from now.  I cannot imagine leaving this city but I also dream of a new start and a new city to fall in love with.  In that uncertainty there is a promise of certain growth: as Austin continues to develop so too will I, and someday when I return here after a leave of absence, the changes in Austin will reflect the changes in me.

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Photos by author, with assistance from Kristine Gregg, Lindsay Bright, and Maria Hexsel.

Lacey Smith is a fourth-year French and geography double major at the University of Texas at Austin.

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