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seaholm intake plant

Condition Survey | Spring 2018
Material Conservation Seminar

Seaholm Intake Plant Building Report (abridged)

The Seaholm Intake Plant (SIP) was built in 1951 as part of the Seaholm Power Plant by nationally renowned engineering firm Burns & McDonnell for the City of Austin. As part of the overall energy producing plant, it is a significant local structure associated with power production for Travis County and has become an instantly identifiable landmark in the city – the only structure to abut the waterfront.

The all-concrete building is a great example of the Art Deco architectural style and unique construction for the city as well as a break from tradition from the typical masonry power plants. The SIP is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is designated as a Texas Historical Landmark.

After its decommission in the late 1990s, the structure remained vacant, but recent development in the city center and potential for adaptive reuse of the structure have attracted wide interest with multiple phases of discussion made in the form of public hearings, design competitions, and redevelopment reports. Due to its situation on city park land, the structure is considered public and is overseen by the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department.

Construction & Operation
What is visible today of the Seaholm Intake Plant is easy to mistake for being completed in one phase due to the similarity of all 3 phases of the facility. Both Building A and B consist of 3 primary levels: a sub-basement that is under water, basement, and ground floor that is accessible from the north. The concrete structures were cast in place and upon closer inspection cold joints show the layers of the construction process. The south façades rise two stories above the water and have a low balcony for maintenance access to the sluice gates which are in turn accessed by two sets of stairs, one on the west face of Building A and one from the west of Building B. The north elevations provide the main access to each building through man doors and additional rolling steel doors for equipment access. Both the north and south elevations have a rhythmic ABA pattern of scored and un-scored concrete panels with the window frames running with the un-scored vertical bands. The interiors of both buildings are also similar, with an inner ledge running on the north and south walls that previously supported an operating crane. The decommissioning removed all heavy equipment from both structures.

Despite the additions made to the original water intake plant, the overall character of the structure has been very cohesive – from materials used, to the form, shape and construction. The character defining features are:

  • Shape: The distinct shape of the SIP is expressive of the Art Deco style, achieved through its rhythmic façade, vertical bands, set-back base with overhang, and prominent lines.

  • Site: With the building’s sub-basement level below water, the context of the building is just as important as the function. SIP is the only building that sits directly on the waterfront of Lady Bird Lake. Because of its split levels the building is perceived much differently from the South and North elevations.

  • Materials: cast-in-place concrete, concrete patterning formwork, operable iron windows, steel inlet grates and mechanical pipes

  • Graffiti: Interestingly, the vacancy and industrial style have attracted numerous graffiti artists that continue to leave their mark on the building’s façade (which has become a prominent part of the Austin skyline) and can potentially claim to be a character-defining feature in its own right.

The current condition of the Seaholm Intake Plant is good. The building is exhibiting normal signs of wear for its age taking into consideration the lack of maintenance. The structure’s most pronounced issues are large regions of soiling and biological growth, while minor issues include a few instances of cracking and spalling, limited lichen growth, spot settlement issues, applied graffiti and extensive corrosion of steel. There are no visible structural issues; however, the connection joint between the original and extension walls of Building A should be investigated further.

*All elevation drawings were recreated from a combination of scans of old construction documents and photographs.


© michaelrahmatoulin 2019