Adaptive Reuse of a Historic Structure: Anna Hiss Gymnasium at The University of Texas at Austin

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April 9, 2021


Discovery, Learning

By Steve Brupbacher

The Anna Hiss Gymnasium on The University of Texas at Austin campus highlights the integrated planning process used to revitalize a core campus building integrating multiple campus users in an adaptive reuse of a historic structure.  Anna Hiss Gym is a vital component of the institution’s history, and extending the facility’s functional lifespan enriches the campus environment, enhances campus sustainability, and preserves existing resources.  The Gymnasium renovation was designed to support research and academic programs for Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, Robotics, Computer Science, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Fine Arts. This adaptive reuse of space will also support the University’s partnership with the Army Futures Command modernization program by providing an immersive environment for cross-functional innovation teams connecting the University’s academic programs with the U. S. Army’s modernization initiatives.

The initial challenge with Anna Hiss Gym was the historic fabric of the building. The ongoing lack of maintenance and overall neglect for the building created a facility that was not directly suited for the very technologically advanced research the Robotics curriculum would require.  While some small measures were taken over time, most of the infrastructure and superstructure of the building necessitated massive upgrades to meet the demands of a modern and advanced learning environment. The building’s inherent character coupled with the expansive gym spaces were seen as an invaluable resource for the Robotics program and worth the investment to upgrade the facilities to meet their demands.

Several ongoing maintenance projects were initiated to perform much-needed repairs and upgrades to the building skin and infrastructure.  Two of those early projects were to replace the roof and windows that were original to the building and exceeded their functional lifespan.  Both systems had fallen into disrepair and began to leak, causing additional issues on the building’s interior.  The replacement and upgrading of the windows and roof would allow much-needed improvements to the building’s energy efficiency.  Anna Hiss Gymnasium’s original windows were steel with single pane glass, which were replaced with a thermally broken aluminum curtain wall system with 1″ insulated glazing.  Careful attention was paid to the mullion size, profile, and spacing to mimic the original historic windows and maintain the building’s historic fabric.

The original roof was a Spanish tile system used throughout the University of Texas at Austin campus but was a pattern and finish that was difficult to match.  The substrate had deteriorated and required replacement of the system from the structural deck up. Additionally, the original roof system was not insulated, which provided very little thermal barrier.  With the new roof system, 5″ of rigid insulation was added to increase the roof’s energy efficiency significantly.  The original Spanish tiles were carefully and individually removed to be salvaged and reused in the new roof installation.  New copper gutters and flashing were installed in keeping with the building’s historic character and aged within a year to blend in seamlessly with the original copper fixtures on the building.

Having accomplished several maintenance and repair functions and upgrading the power and mechanical infrastructure for the building, it became critical to provide the power and data distribution throughout the building, particularly the research lab spaces.  In general, robotics research requires immense power locations and options to accommodate their differing experiments, equipment, and functions.  They also need extensive data for their research, so multiple data connection locations are essential.  Flexibility was vital as the variety of research, and the ever-changing nature of their investigations required the ability to change desk locations, layouts, etc., every week.  To accomplish this, power and data locations were provided at regular intervals along the spaces’ perimeter.  In the lower levels, overhead power reels and busways were utilized to provide flexible connections and locations in the interior of the spaces. In the large gym spaces, overhead busways and floor outlets were integrated with the perimeter locations to provide flexible power and data receptacles at the spaces’ interior.  Careful coordination was required to ensure adequate open and flat space was
provided for a robot soccer field and open air space for drone research.

In the end, BSA, with ongoing coordination of the University of Texas Management team and the Robotics team, provided a state-of-the-art facility that met all the modern technological needs of the research while maintaining the historic fabric of the Anna Hiss Gymnasium.  One-of-a-kind research is now able to take place in a one-of-a-kind building.

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