Jo’s Downtown

Austin, Texas

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When I heard the b’hoys at Page Southerland Page talking about AMLI, Ill be honest, I had no clue what they were talking about. It was not until I saw their fetid property on the side of I85 up near Shallowford Road on my way to Harmony Vegetarian that I picked up on what they might be. I saw them as poised to scoop up some of the market share that Post Properties might be relinquishing in the area of superstrasse fronting apartment tanks. But what do you do when someone or something is not all bad?

Jo’s Downtown

Thos. and I were discussing this past weekend the frustration with the new ‘live/work’ communities sprouting up in metro Atlanta. They are still afloat in seas of parking. Because of their greed and fear and big box aspirations they cannot support themselves through the patronage of the people they beckon to live their but also must pander to the folks who live 15 miles away and think it might be ‘funky’ to go to a Target that is ITP. In the face of this, Thos. mentioned that Mr. Post had a midlife crisis in which he saw this problem and created a dense little block in midtown Atlanta with small shops that front right on the street and dwelling units that take advantage of not only these but also the surrounding fabric (hail Outwrite!!!) because they do not have to walk through a parking lot to get out of their enclave. Such is the richness of downtown Austin. It seems that Mr. AMLI must have suffered the same awakening of conscience, although we all know that the city of Austin requires this typology in their downtown area and he could not have built there at all if he had not submitted to the mandate.

The thing that is strange about this sort of city fabric which one is used to from Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, etc is that in Austin it is new. The sidewalks have a strange Jerdesque crispness with trees growing in large pots, the buildings have a lot of the Austin staple of galvanized metal and more glass storefront on the ground than one is used to in this sort of dense fabric, and it just feels new. One can expectantly see, down 2nd Street, the type continuing to sprout up. This old and new is a difficult line to straddle. It feels like maybe there was some third solution that could have arisen but I am not creative enough to think of it. I would have just filled the street with boulders. But the old and new paradox seems to slough away when you dip into Jo’s.

Jo’s Downtown

The new is still there mind you. Jo’s downtown is the antithesis of its SoCo counterpart, that little meteorite. It is large, a new large. The new large is one that yields to space as a quantity, not as a complex sequence, a series of chambers, like Chapterhouse in Philadelphia for example. But this largeness and simplicity is where AMLI’s project falls apart, where it does not complete the social agenda of enriching people’s lives. It is a militaristic intimacy. The kind you have to learn to live with showering with your neighbours in a dorm, albeit a much more funky and hip dorm than the one people used to rollerblade in and out of my freshman year at college. Jo’s downtown is the explosion of the SoCo Jo’s like a self inflating liferaft that has hit the gaping space of the AMLI shell and just kept growing, the compartmentalization giving way to spatial compartmentalization, a pastry zone, an ordering zone, a pick up zone, a cafeteria-like seating area. It again, like the newness and specious reinvigouration of old types, belies the intimacy of the spaces one would typically find in the above mentioned cities in these street level hollows. It is a breath of fresh recirculated air.

And they have some damn good vegan oat cakes!

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Jo’s Downtown

242 West Second Street
Austin, Texas 78701

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