Austin’s first mass timber hotel

Hotel Magdalena is a relaxing, beautiful retreat with lower carbon footprint

AIA partner Think Wood showcases Hotel Magdalena, which features generous outdoor space, wide exterior corridors, and terraces for the guest rooms, along with a lower carbon footprint, thanks to its mass-timber design.

wooden chairs on a sunny wooden balcony

After a devastating year for the hospitality industry, a recent study showed that a surprising 72% of Americans have plans to travel in 2021, setting up a significant year for tourism. For hotels that have weathered the pandemic storm, the sector faces new consumer preferences for higher safety and wellness standards, domestic travel destinations, as well as increased competition from short-term rentals.

In collaboration with Lake|Flato, hotel operator Bunkhouse launched its newest project, Hotel Magdalena, in Austin, Texas, at the peak of the pandemic. The 89-room boutique hotel was driven by the desire to bring the Texas Hill Country aesthetic into an urban environment. The project team’s early decision to differentiate with mass timber resulted in a “fortunate design” that includes generous outdoor space, wide exterior corridors, and terraces for the guest rooms, all of which enable occupants to engage outdoors at a safe distance.

“In the past, people have thought about hotels as a place where they go into their rooms, close their blinds, and lock themselves away,” shared Michael Britt, AIA, associate with Lake|Flato. “We are flipping that concept to bring people outdoors into a vibrant, shared experience with a shared sense of community that so many are looking for right now. That’s what’s truly unique about the project.”

The property sits at varying elevations, an homage to the slopes of nearby Barton Springs. The five-building complex was designed around the existing live oak heritage trees, which became focal points for outdoor gathering spaces and private suite gardens in Magdalena’s expansive courtyards.

Exposed timber walkways canopy the outdoor corridors and extend into guest rooms. This marriage between interior and exterior spaces is further augmented with scenic landscaping from Ten Eyck Landscape Architects that bridges visitors’ experience through flowing, organic greenery.

In addition to the unique building layout and lush landscape architecture, illustrating a lake-inspired, sustainable design meant advocating for a material choice not commonly seen in Texas—mass timber. Lake|Flato worked with StructureCraft, choosing mass timber construction for its environmental sustainability and swift construction times. The use of this system shaved three months off of typical construction estimates.

“From the beginning, we set aspirational goals for sustainability,” added Britt. “We make a concerted effort to start this process early, engaging all stakeholders on a common goal from the beginning. This led to our joint decision to use mass timber.”

To measure the project’s carbon reduction, Lake|Flato performed a life cycle assessment comparing the mass timber structure of the design to a baseline design made of all concrete. The results showed that using a combination of glulam and dowel-laminated timber (DLT), in comparison to concrete, generated a 38% reduction in global warming potential (GWP)–equivalent to the amount of carbon sequestered by 882 acres of U.S. forests in one year.

“From an experiential standpoint, by exposing the wood structure to the hotel guests, the mass timber helps tell the story of how the hotel was built while paying homage to the premises. The exposed wood also provides a warmer, more textured material in the guest rooms and common outdoor porches.”

With Hotel Magdalena complete and hotel bookings looking up, Bunkhouse is optimistic about the future of the hospitality industry.

“It has been an exceptionally challenging time for our industry. We have been faced with enormous challenges throughout practically every aspect of completing and opening the hotel,” said Amar Lalvani, CEO of Standard International + Bunkhouse. “Post pandemic, we can’t wait to see people freely enjoy the spaces and each other’s company, and have fun once again, which is what our breed of hospitality is all about.”

Download and read the full project profile on Think Wood’s website.

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