A screenshot from the 2007 documentary The Unforeseen showing an aerial view of the iconic skeleton crown of the Frost Bank Tower during its construction. Image: The unforeseen
With numerous taller towers now visible in the Austin skyline – and more along the way – the 33-story Frost Bank Tower at 401 Kongressstrasse is not exactly the symbol of “New Austin” that it once was when it opened in 2004 and only remained the tallest building in the city until the 360 condominiums were completed in 2008. But as the first truly architecturally iconic tower, the building’s distinctive pyramid-shaped glass crown and other aspects of its design by renowned architectural firms have been built here since the 1980s Duda / Paine put the structure to the test that new projects in the area just aren’t exposed to these days, now that the appearance of something big and new downtown is less shocking and more like a Tuesday.
The Frost Bank Tower in the middle, with the Austonian on the left. Image: Pexels
Comparing a nose trimmer and allegations of meritorious craftsmanship aside, it has been long enough that many locals now consider the Frost Tower a symbol of an older Austin and compare it to newer buildings with a real sense of nostalgia. I’ll even see people bitterly lament that taller towers reduce visibility in the skyline. But two decades ago, the building symbolized something more significant even before it even left the ground. The start of work on the frost tower 11/27/2001, According to reports, the development was done by a national real estate company Cousins properties America’s first tower plan to advance after the September 11, 2001 attacks, a tragedy that will turn 20th this weekend.
An excerpt from the Austin American Statesman of the November 2, 2001 Frost Plan. Image: Austin History Center
While our return to architectural normalcy didn’t take long, concerns about the new form of high-rise terrorism introduced by the attacks led some in the design community to wonder whether the era of skyscrapers was indeed coming to a bitter end had – together with the public reluctance to work in tall buildings after the attacks, architects now had to reckon with the terrifying thought that tall, iconic buildings could simply represent larger goals, rather than marvels of art and technology.
Those fears ultimately formed a silver lining – “a renaissance in high-rise design” – as the lessons of the World Trade Center collapse influenced the rise of a new generation of towers with modern safety standards that emerged in direct response to the contingencies of 9 / 11 previously unthinkable. As the first in the nation to move forward after the attacks, the Frost Tower arguably marks the true beginning of this modern era and remains a symbol of downtown strength, even as newer towers redefine what we consider to be the iconic height of the Austin skyline .