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Reinventing the Past

Historic preservation project transforms rural cotton gin into open-air pavilion.

By Drew Hardman

Reinventing the legendary Hutto Cotton and Grain Co-Op was a labor of love. As the crown jewel of Farley Street in downtown Hutto, Texas, the $1 million redevelopment project required months of preparation and planning, over 33 tons of custom-fit steel, and a look back at more than a century of history.

“The cotton gin operation had been located on that site for over 100 years,” says Michael Antenora, principal of Antenora Architects, LLP. “The buildings underwent several additions and modifications over the years until the operation was shut down in 2003.”

At that time, Hutto was one of the fastest growing cities in Texas, thanks in part to its convenient location adjacent to Highway 130 and nearby Austin. City officials conducted a study to review the lifespan of their various properties. One option under consideration was to repurpose the Hutto Cotton and Grain Co-Op, which included two ginning facilities and seven silos on nearly 25 acres of property, as a new city hall.

The economic recession of 2008 dramatically altered the scope of the project as funds were reallocated toward a new water treatment plant rather than a city hall. But it wasn’t long before officials once again set their sights on repurposing the cotton gin property—this time as a public events space.

Preserving History

“Their new plan was to use the gins in their current location, with the idea of a pavilion or event hall,” Antenora says. “Our design concept tried to preserve the original character of the buildings and make them as eye-catching as possible to be the centerpiece of a new civic block.”

The first step was to remove extraneous additions and cladding while reinforcing the roof trusses, wall studs, and other structural cornerstones.

“The ginning buildings themselves were only meant to keep the machines out of the weather,” Antenora says. “They weren’t insulated in any way. Even reinforcing them to be structured for use required significant thought and effort.”

Antenora and the rest of the design team devised a concept they called the “glowing box.” Their goal was to drive traffic to the site with an airy, functional space and a dramatically lit exterior, relying on perforated EcoScreen® metal panels by CENTRIA as the central design element and corrugated BR5-36 rainscreen panels to capture the facility’s previous aesthetic. “The [exposed fastener] panel is a hardier, deeper profile than the original, but it successfully captures the cotton gin character,” Antenora notes.

Dual Aesthetics

The team from Antenora Architects, which included project manager Gordon Bingaman, was attracted to the “dual nature” of the stainless steel perforated EcoScreen panels, which serve as both a transparent and reflective surface. The building’s luminous aesthetic is created through a combination of natural and artificial lighting. The complex design creates the appearance of a solid, corrugated wall during daylight hours. In the evening, the light filters through the perforated panels to reveal the interior against a solid backdrop.

“The facility uses indirect up lights that make the wall appear more solid, just as the sun does during the day,” Bingaman says. “But when there’s an event happening, linear fixtures are positioned to provide both up and down lighting for a translucent, even-toned lantern effect.”

“Most of the light you see is bouncing off another surface,” he adds. “The indirect light effuses the space like a cathedral.”

Form and Function

The decision to specify CENTRIA single-skin metal panels was based as much on performance and value considerations as that of aesthetics. EcoScreen perforated screenwalls offer a 10–40 percent open area to control light and air movement while elegantly blending industrial and other applications with their surroundings. Designers relied on interior fans and four rooftop turbines to facilitate air movement throughout the facility.

“Despite the hot Texas sun, it’s actually quite cool inside,” Antenora says.

According to Bingaman, an expert in architectural historic preservation, the material’s durability and corrosion resistance was an important factor in maintaining functionality and preserving long-term investment.

“Because they were 18-gage, the EcoScreen panels have a real durability to them,” Bingaman says. “This building had to be functional. It’s home to a farmers’ market; there’s hail to consider or windblown rock; and people are mowing the grass just outside and sending materials flying against the wall. It has to persevere through everything.”

In addition, CENTRIA provided an outstanding level of customer service from project inception to completion.

“It was the level of value offered by CENTRIA—the shop drawings, the quality of the accessory packs—that made the difference,” Antenora notes.

Green Design

Throughout the process, the city stressed the importance of sustainable building practices. Green by virtue of its composition of recycled materials and the absence of mechanical systems, the gin’s electric consumption is limited to highly efficient fans and lighting. The deconstructed cotton gins and silos were either reused immediately onsite, stored for reuse at a later time, or directly recycled, Bingaman says. The project achieved LEED® Silver status.

The renamed Gin at the Co-Op District has become the go-to event space in Hutto, with regularly scheduled co-op shopping nights and a weekly farmers’ market, not to mention fundraisers, concerts, weddings, and other events. The preserved cotton gin stands in homage to the city’s decorated past and marks the first step of a comprehensive redevelopment that will serve the community for years to come.

Gin at the Co-Op District

Hutto, TX
Building Owner: City of Hutto
Architects: Antenora Architects, LLP
TBG Partners (landscape)
General Contractor: American Constructors, Inc.
Dealer: Wade Architectural Systems
Installer: D.R. Kidd

CENTRIA Products:

EcoScreen Econolap; Stainless Steel; 15,187 square feet
BR5-36; Stainless Steel; 3,147 square feet

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