Austin, Texas


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 complex includes a looping 3.4-mile racetrack; a 27-acre Grand Plaza adjacent to a monumental lawn; and the city's largest outdoor concert venue, the Austin360 Amphitheater, with an audience capacity of over 14,000. Anchoring the park is a 251-foot-tall observation tower, veiled on one side by a dynamic sweep of red-steel tubes, meant to evoke the blur of light that trails cars racing in the night. Unlike most public spaces in the region, it doesn't feature the University of Texas burnt orange. The one nod to the Lone Star State is a Texas flag, along with the American flag and 12 others representing countries that have competing teams or host a Grand Prix. There are only 26 purpose-built tracks worldwide certified by the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile for this high profile, multibillion-dollar motor sport. “This is not Austin. This is not Texas. This is Formula 1,” says Miguel Rivera, principal of the Austin-based Miró Rivera Architects, the firm responsible for the public spaces: the Main Grandstand, amphitheater, Grand Plaza, observation tower, and ticket, restroom and concession buildings, as well as two pedestrian bridges over the track. (The German firm Tilke Architects & Engineers designed the highly specialized track and pit building, a medical building, and a media and conference center.)

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)


Circuit of the Americas

Miró Rivera Architects
505 Powell St.
Austin, TX 78703
P 512 477 7016
F 512 476 7672

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Juan Miró, FAIA LEED AP (Design Partner)*
Miguel Rivera, AIA LEED AP (Design Partner)*
Ken Jones, AIA LEED AP (Senior Associate)*
Matthew Sturich, LEED AP (Associate)
Diana Su

Sergio Botero
Spencer Cook
Sarah Hafley
Matthew Helveston
Michael Hsu
Shane Pavonetti
Ed Richardson*
Registered Architect*

Structural Engineer
Walter P. Moore
221 W 6th St, Suite 800
Austin, TX 78701

MEP Engineer
Bay & Associates
8217 Shoal Creek Blvd
Austin, TX 78757

Civil Engineer
Carlson Brigance & Doering
5501 W William Cannon Drive
Austin, TX 78749

TBG Partners
901 South Mo-Pac, Suite 350
Austin, TX 78746

ArcLight Design
121 Varick St, 5th Floor
New York, NY 10013

Acoustic Dimensions (Grand Plaza & Observation Tower)
15508 Wright Brothers Drive
Addison, TX 75001

Altura Solutions (ADA)
3800 N. Lamar Blvd, Suite 730-146
Austin, TX 78746

The Bigelow Companies (Food Services)
6501 E. Commerce Ave, Suite 120
Kansas City, MO 64120

Convergint Technologies (Security) (Grand Plaza)
9233 Waterford Centre Blvd, Suite 150
Austin, TX 78758

fd2s (Wayfinding)
3601 South Congress, Bldg K, Suite 300A
Austin, TX 78704

MBC Consultants (Construction Management & Consulting)
113 W. Moore Ave
Terrell, TX 75160

Rolf Jensen & Associates, Inc. (Fire Protection) (Observation Tower)
2301 West Plano Parkway, Suite 210
Plano, TX 75075

General contractor:
Austin, Commercial, L.P. 1301 South Mo-Pac, Suite 310 Austin, TX 78746 512.306.9880

Paul Finkel | Piston Design (512.799.8999)
Michael Hsu | Mir' Rivera Architects (512.477.7016)
Ted Parker, Jr. Photography
Tomas Segura
Dorna Sports

CAD system, project management, or other software used:
AutoCAD, Prolog, Tekla (Observation Tower)



Structural system
Structural Slab on Pier Foundation, Steel Frame, Concrete Masonry

Manufacturer of any structural components unique to this project:
Patriot Erectors (Steel fabricator + erector @ Observation Tower)
Austin Glass & Mirror, Inc. (Glass floor and rail @ Observation Tower)
Alpha Industries, Inc. (Steel fabricator)
Derr Steel Erection Company (Steel erector)

Exterior cladding
Precast concrete:
Austin Bridge & Road (Turn 3 & Turn 16 pedestrian bridges)
Bexar Concrete Works (Concrete box beams and girders @ Austin360 Amphitheater)

EIFS, ACM, or other:
Parex USA Teifs

Moisture barrier:
Polyguard Products, Inc. (Grand Plaza)
Weathertech (Observation Tower)
Barrier-bac (Vapor barrier)

Carlisle Syntec (Grand Plaza & Observation Tower)

Metal frame:
United States Aluminum (Series FT451) (Ticket Building)

Haley-Greer Inc. (Contractor)
Tristar Glass Products (Ticket Building)
Crista-Curva (Railing & Floor at Observation Tower)

Metal doors:
Curries/Assa Abloy

Special doors (sound control, X-ray, etc.):
Overhead doors ' Alamo Door Systems
Louvered doors ' Construction Specialties



Exit devices:


Other special hardware:
C.R. Laurence (Railing system @ Observation Tower)

Interior finishes
Suspension grid:
USG (Sheetrock Lay-In Ceiling Panel ClimaPlus, Vinyl)
USD (Radar ClimaPlus)

Cabinetwork and custom woodwork:
Texas Fixtures and Interiors

Paints and stains:

American Sanitary Partition Corp.

Plastic laminate:
Wilsonart (Grand Plaza & Amphitheater Restrooms, Ticket Building)

Floor and wall tile:
Daltile (Restroom wall tile)
Marazzi Monolith (Restroom floor tile, elevator @ Observation Tower)

Fixed seating:
American Seating (Amphitheater)

Other furniture:
Landscape Forms, Urbanscape, Kettler (Site furniture)

Spectrum Lighting (Dealer)

Interior ambient lighting:

Performance in Lighting USA

Dimming System or other lighting controls:
Philips ColorGraze Powercore (Observation Tower)
Pharos Lighting Playback Controller

Elevators / Escalators:
Otis Gen2 4045 (Observation Structure)

Kohler (Lavatories, toilets)
Chicago Faucets (Faucets)
Toto (Low-consumption urinals)
Elkay (Water fountains)