Located in Austin, one of the next U.S. boomtowns, the Sky Garden at 70 Rainey sets a precedent for growing up rather than out and creates a deliberate connection to the surrounding landscape through careful plant selection. Recreating the Texas Hill Country landscape and utilizing nature as a healer, the Sky Garden creates protective microclimates 100 feet in the Texas sky.
Aptly named, the Sky Garden is dominated by plants and creates a scaled–down and elevated version of the region’s landscapes. Though famous for its limestone and granite, there is much to be said about the Hill Country’s utilitarian vegetation. Practicality was a defining characteristic in the design approach. Echinacea, Salvias, and Asclepias feed pollinator insects. Yuccas endure extreme temperatures and Huisache trees shade guests. The Sky Garden also responds to its immediate surroundings. Heeding the building’s architectural cues, the design team curated a plant palette that blends building and nature. Plants have grown wildly and abundantly since their installation, becoming more and more impressive over time.
Extensive measures were taken to ensure the Sky Garden was protected from Texas’s elements. Wind tunnel test data revealed locations where turbulence would create uninhabitable conditions. Deliberate planting interventions were invoked to curb winds and create comfortability. Crossvines climb the railings, providing year-round protection. From the street, these vines are part of the screen plant composition that shields the east and south faces from wind and sun and ties the building’s podium screen and deck together. Native Huisache trees also play a role in the success of the Sky Garden’s microclimates. Located in the southeastern corner, which receives over six hours of sunlight during summer, these trees create a second canopy that lowers temperatures on the deck but allow sunlight to filter through the bipinnate leaves. These carefully considered design decisions bring the deck to a human scale and create an ideal environment for enjoying the Sky Garden’s many offerings throughout the day.
Of the 9,300 square feet of rooftop exposed to the sky, over 43% is comprised of gardens and an infinity edge pool. Rainwater is slowed and absorbed by the amenity deck’s planting areas, which help reduce runoff to the City of Austin’s storm system and Lady Bird Lake, a reservoir dedicated to recreation and flood control. Other environmental benefits that can be attributed to the Sky Garden include reoxygenation and increased pollination.
Programming is inspired by surrounding social forces. Tree-lined Rainey Street is the city’s most visited entertainment district. Bungalows turned indoor–outdoor eateries allow locals and visitors to enjoy the outdoors, music, and fantastic weather. Along the building’s Rainey Street side, shady gathering spots foster community like the bustling street below while the south and west sides take advantage of panoramic views with garden rooms and an infinity edge pool.
Perhaps most importantly, the Sky Garden provides a lush, open-air escape where residents can maintain their mental wellness, engage in recreation, and surround themselves with nature. The east side is an ideal location to begin one’s day watching the sunrise. Its garden rooms, brightened by natural light, are a perfect retreat for reading and contemplation on hot summer days. Breezes circulate and lift the scent of vibrant, colorful perennials, shrubs and grasses into the air, giving the plants lively movement. The west edge of the building captures astonishing views of the setting Texas sun, Lady Bird Lake, and the vast Austin skyline on any given evening.
As cities like Austin continue to grow, the Sky Garden at 70 Rainey will serve as an important case study for rooftop gardens. In an undeniably urban setting, the Sky Garden successfully recreates native and natural landscapes, revitalizes the environment, and provides a refuge for humans and flora alike.
Architecture offices involved in the design: Page\ Architects
Project location: Austin, TX
Design year: 2016
Year Built: 2019