The Carpenter Hotel is a hidden oasis in one of the last pockets of Old Austin. It is a compound of buildings of different vintages surrounding a pecan tree-shaded courtyard and pool, and features a restaurant, café, event pavilion, and 93 guest rooms. It has a character that is unlike any other hotel in town.
The new hotel building is composed of an exposed rough-concrete frame, with infill walls made of locally-sourced clay masonry blocks and recycled steel oil-drilling pipe. Where trees had to be removed (in all cases these were damaged or otherwise compromised), the pecan wood was sawn into boards and used as a feature in the spaces. Materials are expressed as-is, and decorative effect, where it exists, is created through the spacing and patterning of basic elements, or by the direct application of signage. There is no attempt to mimic historic styles, nor is there an attempt to follow architectural trends. It is simple and direct, and its power comes from this straightforward expression.
“The design was driven by a sense of place; the desire to create something that is natural to its location, neighborhood, and the city as a whole,” says Scott Specht, Founder of Specht Architects. “ It is a new take on the idea of adaptive re-use that doesn’t mimic what was existing, or create a bright line between the “old” and the “new”, but a stealth approach that merges all the parts into an urban collage that feels unforced and authentic.”
Almost all of the original heritage pecan trees on the site were preserved and incorporated into the design. An existing “mid-century-utilitarian” union hall for Carpenter’s Local 1266 on the site was also re-purposed as the lobby and restaurant with minimal changes. The new hotel building, shade canopies, and Quonset-hut-based pavilion have a new and distinct architectural expression, but the forms and materials are harmonious with the existing union hall and the other unselfconscious industrial buildings in the area. It all fits together seamlessly.
The interiors of the hotel are in continuity with this attitude. Floors and ceilings in the rooms are concrete, and most walls are the same clay block as the exterior. Furniture and cabinetry are made from raw plywood, or sourced from small manufacturers. Each room has a large terrace that overlooks the surrounding treescape. It is a place that feels simultaneously new, and “like it has always been there. Comfortable, unpretentious, and truly Austin.