Sarah M. and Charles E. Seay Building, The University of Texas at Austin

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Austin, Texas, USA
175,000 square feet / 16,000 square meters

The Seay Building is the first project completed under the Pelli Clarke Pelli master plan for the University of Texas at Austin. The building extends the Spanish Mediterranean vocabulary of Paul Cret’s original master plan in a new structure that holds street edges and encloses a landscaped courtyard.

The building, which houses the Department of Psychology and Human Ecology’s Division of Human Development and Family Sciences, contains wet laboratories, a library, computer classrooms, student counseling and observation rooms, acoustic isolation chambers, faculty and administrative offices and a preschool.

Following the natural slope of the site, the building steps down from a five-story lab wing on the west, around the landscaped courtyard before ending on the west side in a three-story wing scaled for the preschool. Five main entrances with appropriate security are located around the building perimeter, while the building’s formal entry on the southeast corner is an open double-height space with a grand stair that brings visitors up to the reception area. From this corner on the fourth floor, the library affords commanding views of the campus and the state Capitol.

The building’s materials and details are designed as modern interpretations of the original Cass Gilbert and Paul Cret buildings that form the heart of the campus. A solid stone base, Texas brick body, and glassy top express the tripartite composition of the older buildings. The painted wood soffits found on the roof overhangs of many UT buildings are recreated on the Seay Building with brightly colored enameled metal panels that will not fade in the Texas sun. The courtyard, clearly defined by the rectangular bars of the building, imparts a sense of life and energy with the swooping curves of its plantings and walkways. The focus of the courtyard, which has a patio on the south side, is a center seating area used as an outdoor classroom. A modest fountain in the center, fed by a rill of water that flows alongside the walkway, creates a cool oasis.