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An Exploration of TBG’s Embodiments


Over the last year, we have seen our work environment change in so many ways that the “before” would almost be unimaginable. Collaborations – ranging from in-person workshops with clients and stakeholders, to the casual brainstorming within studio teams happening every day in our offices – have evolved to include a wide array of virtual scenarios and platforms that keep us connected and engaged throughout the design process. Working within these challenges, we continue to find opportunities to expand our practice and the application of our design process in delivering impactful projects across the transect.

At TBG, our process is more than just the way we design. It’s the way we establish our strategic relationships, partner with our clients, and develop teams and approaches – all setting the stage for a holistically successful project. Our process is the step-by-step method in which we discover our client’s needs and vision, the opportunities and constraints defined by complex sites and their context and define design goals that guide us toward a project with landscape performance at its core. It’s the way we develop and deliver design rooted in art and science – where we can quantify the value created by our profession and the sustainable outcomes. Our process is truly the backbone of our firm and integral to our purpose of making the earth a more memorable place.

While our practice is firmly grounded in an iterative and collaborative process, allowing us to progress from project inception through delivery – and beyond to evaluation, the variety of perspectives defined by our embodiments provide the various lenses through which we design.

With each of our projects, TBGers act as scientists, artists, designers, futurists, and composers – with the goal of creating transformative places that:

– seamlessly integrate with benefit the environment
– elevate the user experience through a balance of form and function,
– create beauty in the most organic and unexpected ways,
– anticipate the future with resiliency delivered in response, and
– offer complete compositions where people are connected to place

Continue reading as we examine one of our projects – the new Texas Mutual Insurance (TMI) headquarters – through the lenses of each of our embodiments.

About the Project
Located within Austin’s Mueller development – a large-scale adaptive reuse of the city’s former municipal airport – this corporate facility is home to approximately 800 employees consolidated from across the state of Texas.

Embodiment #1 – Designers
an empathetic balance of form and function

From the outset of the project, we knew that the client desired a flexible, comfortable and culturally representative work environment that would be reflective of their employee base’s demographics and working preferences, which catalyzed an extensive interview and survey of TMI leadership and staff to understand their needs, desires and day-to-day work operations. The results, totaling nearly 100 pages, revealed how TMI’s different departments worked and their typical space needs – which ultimately revealed a desire for a work environment that all people wanted to be in, feel connected to and be inspired by. Moreover, TMI’s identity as being safe, secure, comfortable and enduring through its insurance offerings served as guiding principles to inspire design of the landscape and environmental context.

The above exhibit is an excerpt from an early design package – depicting the overarching client goals and design opportunities we found

The above exhibit depicts initial site observations

In ensuring a balance between the functional space requirements needed by their employees and the design aesthetic and extra amenities sought to differentiate themselves, we were able to successfully deliver a beautiful, comfortable, flexible and functional work environment.

Embodiment #2 – Scientists
integration of the smallest matter and most complex systems

During the design process, TBG performed a series of sunlight, shadow and climate analyses that informed the approach while elucidating the design possibilities and contextual constraints.

Sunlight analysis exhibit – Winter

By using 3D architectural software, including BIM tools for sun, shade, wind, etc., we were able to attain a very nuanced understanding of how the space would feel throughout the day, how much sunlight specific areas would receive, and thus which plants were suitable for various niches and spaces, and how to respond accordingly, in terms of a large ground-level courtyard, vertical walls of a six-story parking garage and adjacent buildings, and an expansive roofscape.

Shadow analysis exhibit – Spring

By understanding the amounts of shade and full sun these areas would receive, as well as research of climbing plants and growing heights, appropriate vegetation was chosen that could thrive in a distinct microclimate. Moreover, since the actual buildings had not been constructed, the virtual analysis made understanding these climatic conditions truly invaluable to articulating the intent and conditions to the larger team and client.

Austin climbing plants and heights research analysis

The courtyard garden includes entirely native vegetation and responds to the sunlight and climate analysis; for example, a semi-tropical palette was devised for areas of minimal sunlight like one would find on the jungle floor. To further emphasize nature, three of the courtyard’s four vertical walls were adorned with varieties of climbing plants. This serves to provide views of green space — essentially a quilted pattern of various ivies — to the interior office workers and emphasizes the connection to nature. Additionally, the courtyard’s ground plane is 100 percent permeable; we worked with the paver manufacturer to design a custom paver system, plant beds and under drain system. The roofscape was treated similarly to the courtyard, although it receives full sun all day and thus has a characteristic plant palette.

Climbing plant analysis exhibit

Embodiment #3 – Futurists
anticipation of tendencies of living systems to generate resilient projects

An overarching design objective and opportunity was to connect the office interiors to the exterior seamlessly, both visually and physically, to allow for the ability to work outside in many different arrangements as well as have a strong connection to nature. Three key principles to this end included establishing connections, both visual and physical, making the space comfortable to be in and providing various experiences depending on the end-user.

Interior ground floor view, looking out on the courtyard

Connectivity goals included connecting circulation from the street and adjacent neighborhood park to the TMI site and courtyard; connecting interior programmed space and compatible outdoor uses; connecting views from interior, work and public spaces to the outside; connecting people to nature through direct visual access to native vegetation, environmental processes and sustainability at all levels, including showcasing rainwater collection in the courtyard; and connecting with plug-in-play capabilities, charging stations and WiFi to support outdoor work environments.

Geometries and material patterns create leading lines

In terms of comfort, strategies including designing for light and shade conditions, atop the roof and in the courtyard; creating a safe environment for employees and the community; facilitating air movement, with overhead trellis fans and shade structures with cooling elements, for outdoor comfort; incorporating both movable and fixed furniture options; flexibility to accommodate user preferences as well as changes in environmental conditions and needs; and the management of noise and visual distractions through adjacent uses. The goal of providing various experiences was met by designing outdoor spaces in a diversity of sizes and space types, providing active and quiet areas, paved surfaces and vegetated areas — that support collaboration, camaraderie, and community and social interaction.

Embodiment #4 – Artists
draw, dream and imagine – infuse beauty into every environment

Hand-drawn courtyard sections

Because TMI wanted to offer flexible workspace options, our courtyard design includes a large, stepped amphitheater for gatherings of 30-plus people; a custom communal table for 10 to 20 people intended for interdepartmental meetings; and small vegetated areas for groups of four or less that serve as an extension of the café. Collectively, the spaces can accommodate independent work, small groups, medium- to large-sized groups and, when all spaces are in use, entire office-wide gatherings and celebrations. We also designed and implemented a custom pergola.

Bespoke communal table

Custom pergola design

Custom amphitheater design

Embodiment #5 – Composers
orchestrate harmony between people and place

Mueller, where TMI is located, is within short distance to Austin’s downtown core – and is located adjacent to I-35. The storied site is the former home of Austin’s Robert Mueller Municipal Airport but has since been reimagined as a sustainable and modern planned community and mixed-use development that adheres to the principles of new urbanism.

Because TMI was going to be part of this much larger community, it was critical that the new headquarters stitched seamlessly into the existing Mueller fabric – but, more than that, become a connector in the community between people and place.

For TMI employees and guests, the roof terrace provides exceptional downtown views of Austin. In addition to downtown views, the terrace also features design elements like a large glass-walled mezzanine space with outdoor kitchen, raised beds that double as seating, spaces for independent and group work, a diversity of covered, semi-covered and uncovered spaces, and trees and vegetation to ensure the space is comfortable.

Roof terrace workspace

The rooftop terrace also provides an opportunity to connect visually with the adjacent Mary Elizabeth Branch Park, while a decomposed granite jogging trail under a cedar elm allée runs along the site’s northern edge and creates a strong physical connection to the neighborhood park and the rest of the Mueller development. The terrace views, deliberate ground plane connections, and seamless integration of the site into the overall development all contribute to an enjoyable and harmonious experience within Mueller.

Roof terrace lounge area

Our design process is so much more than just the way we design our projects. Our embodiments – scientists, artists, designers, futurists and composers – provide us with a variety of perspectives and lenses in which to design through, and when complemented by our collaborative design process, ultimately challenges us as designers to be more empathetic and forward-thinking as we work toward making the earth a more memorable place.

We would be remiss to not mention the folks who brought this project to life. Huge kudos to our TBG design team: Elliott Doerle, Matt Dawson, Adam Shriver, Carson Chapman, Chris Jackson, Ian Dippo, and Nick Blok – and the other consultants on the team we enjoyed collaborating with: Studio8 architects, Cardno Haynes Whaley, Doucet & Associates, Harvey Cleary, Clean Scapes, and James Pole.

Eric Garrison is TBG’s Director of Practice and a Principal in our Austin office. He has more than 18 years’ professional experience that includes working on elaborate projects throughout the United States and internationally. He excels at both large-scale planning and landscape design at a more focused site level, allowing him to contribute to the successful creation of numerous projects. Eric also is proficient at working through the multidisciplinary charrette process that produces extensive work product in a matter of days — he has been integral to many of TBG’s most successful charrette endeavors.