Though it isn't quite all tumbleweed and Longhorns on the 20-minute drive from downtown Austin to the Circuit of the Americas (COTA)—the only facility in the United States specifically built to host the Formula 1 Grand Prix auto race—the barren landscape looks and feels like rural Texas. Enter the 1,200-acre venue, however, and you are transported to a world-class center for motor sports, concerts, and events.
The scheme is unique for its abundance of clear sightlines to the 20-turn track. Visitors—up to 120,000 per day—can set up camp on the Grand Plaza lawn near a reflecting pool and xeriscaped grounds shaded by Mexican sycamore trees. Here they can enjoy the action close to concessions and retail stands. To allow for future growth and flexibility, Miró Rivera employed a concrete-and-steel modular system for the concessions, restroom buildings, and Main Grandstand. Protected by a tensile fabric canopy, this 8,255-seat three-story structure includes concessions at grade, an event space and 6,500-square-foot lounge on the second level, plus an additional lounge and 29 private suites on the third.
Because motor sports won't be scheduled year-round, the architects created an alternative venue that could be used for other events. The Austin360 Amphitheater seats some 7,000 people, with room for another 8,000 gathered informally on a grassy slope behind them. Tucked under the tubular construction that fans out from the observation tower at its base, the 120-foot-wide-by-40-foot-deep stage is set within a rigging canopy capable of supporting 100,000 pounds of lighting and audio equipment. Built with precast, post-tensioned box beams, an overpass spans the backstage. Covered by a slab at least 8 inches thick, this bridgelike structure accommodates vehicular and pedestrian traffic, provides fire protection for the tower, and helps to support the tower's tubular veil.
COTA, which cost over $400 million, was designed and built in only two years. Yet the project was fraught with controversy and contract disputes—including those among former race car driver and Austinite Tavo Hellmund, whose vision and drive initiated the endeavor; Bernie Ecclestone, Formula 1's commercial rights holder; Bobby Epstein, the primary investor and COTA chairman; and local opponents. Now, after positive reviews from drivers and fans alike, general admission tickets for the 2013 Grand Prix in November are selling briskly. And with contracts to host the X-Games and other major events on the books, it seems COTA's troubles are in the rear-view mirror. “It was a painful challenge, but worth it,” says Epstein, reflecting on the litigious road to last year's inaugural race. “We now have something modern and global.” Epstein hopes to expand COTA to include a hotel, a visitors' center, maybe even a museum. With Austin already a destination city because of festivals such as South by Southwest and Austin City Limits, COTA provides one more opportunity for Austin to shine and, as Epstein states, to be “a great place for people to come together.”
Size: 197,000 square feet
Cost: $62 million
Completion Date: November 2012 (Grand Plaza and Observation Tower), March 2013 (Austin360 Amphitheater)
Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
The Bigelow Companies (Food Services)
Convergint Technologies (Security) (Grand Plaza)
MBC Consultants (Construction Management & Consulting)
Rolf Jensen & Associates, Inc. (Fire Protection) (Observation Tower)
CAD system, project management, or other software used:
Manufacturer of any structural components unique to this project:
EIFS, ACM, or other:
Special doors (sound control, X-ray, etc.):
Other special hardware:
Cabinetwork and custom woodwork:
Paints and stains:
Floor and wall tile:
Interior ambient lighting:
Dimming System or other lighting controls: