Formula 1 architects Juan Miró and Miguel Rivera design with an eye on the future / By Allie Eissler / Photo by Rudy Arocha
It is difficult to believe that a tiny public restroom could take longer to build than a 6,500-seat Formula 1 amphitheater, but according to local architects Juan Miró and Miguel Rivera, the circumstances of a project are usually far more challenging than size or budget.
“We’re very comfortable changing scale, and we try not to specialize,” Miró says. “The architects we admire most, like Renzo Piano or Frank Lloyd Wright, could design everything from chairs to skyscrapers.”
You name it, the skilled members of the Miró Rivera firm have designed, built and renovated it—from cozy bungalows, boat docks and bridges, to sprawling deck houses, public plazas and theaters—and likely won a slew of awards for their efforts in the process. Their work reveals clean, modern lines, eco-friendly orientation and a keen understanding of nature, although they are quick to point out that creativity is just the tip of the iceberg.
“We are artists to a certain degree, but our top priority is problem solving,” Miró says. “We never try to impose a certain aesthetic, like everything is white or everything looks sculptural, because each project calls for something different.”
“We do love to use glass, though, because the nature here is so beautiful,” Rivera adds. “That way, you still feel connected to the outside, even from inside a room.”
Weary bikers and joggers have likely encountered one of Miró Rivera’s more curious contributions to the Austin landscape: a dynamic yet discreet weathered steel-sculpture turned-trail restroom that melts seamlessly in to the banks of Lady Bird Lake. Staggered vertical plates of varying widths and heights allow for natural light and ventilation, coiling at one end to form the room’s walls.
Another arresting union of form and function is an arching, reed-inspired pedestrian bridge that seems to grow organically across the water. Miró studied architecture first in Madrid and subsequently at Yale on a Fulbright scholarship. He currently teaches design, construction and Mexican architecture at the University of Texas at Austin, and in case you’re wondering, is only a distant relation of surrealist painter Joan Miró.
“Everyone always asks about that,” he says with a chuckle, “but I’m afraid I don’t have any of his paintings.”
Rivera originally hails from Puerto Rico, earned his master’s degree from Columbia and worked in New York for nearly a decade before forming Miró Rivera. Both are the sons of talented architects, and in a surprising twist, Miró eventually married Rivera’s sister, Rosa, who now handles the business side of things for the firm. A contract to build Michael Dell’s house first brought the brothers-in-law to Austin, and they liked the city so much, they decided to stay.
“We never intended to not go back to Spain or New York,” Miró says, “but we immediately felt at home in Austin. It’s such an open, inviting, cosmopolitan place.”
The pair’s latest project designing the Formula 1 grandstand and amphitheater has been an absolute whirlwind, and because it didn’t follow the typical sequence of events in terms of planning and production, “everything had to happen extremely fast,” Rivera explains.
“It’s such an incredible opportunity for Austin,” Miró adds. “There’s the direct economic impact, of course, but the other part that’s a little harder to measure is the impact in terms of name recognition and visibility. Formula 1 is a truly international sport, so the whole world will be looking.”
For Austinites concerned about the short-lived glitz and glamour of high- dollar box seats and 200-mile-per-hour speeding machines, it’s important to emphasize that all of the fuss is not just about a racetrack. This venue has the capacity to host any number of events, from tech conferences to tennis matches, and will be partnering with Live Nation to book nationally touring music acts as well. Now that’s the spirit of the Live Music Capital of the World.
Of course, it wouldn’t be like the Miró Rivera team to take on any project without an eye for the future—that’s the true essence of green building, often overlooked in favor of more superficial buzzwords and quick fixes.
“Obviously, the main focus this year is to get everything ready for the first race, but this is really a long-term project,” Miró says. “When we look back 10 or 15 years from now, this will have grown in to something much more than just Formula 1.”
The three-story Circuit of the Americas grandstand will seat 8,255 fans with 29 suites, an expansive kitchen, a loading dock and a 6,100-square-foot lounge. The grand plaza will accommodate an estimated foot-traffic figure of 60,000 to 70,000. It features an enormous reflecting pool, two pedestrian bridges and fixed seating for 25,735, plus general admission and hospitality suites. The open-air amphitheater will be the largest of its kind in Central Texas, with grass seating as well as approximately 6,500 reserved seats. It will be called the Tower Amphitheater after one of its signature features, an iconic 23-story, 251-foot steel structure with an observation deck that will overlook the entire circuit and amphitheater. The tower features 370 tons of steel, 740 feet of color-changing LEDs and bright red accents that bring to mind luxurious Ferraris.
“When you think about the latest car technology, Formula 1 attracts the best of the best,” Juan Miró says. “So in a way, the whole idea of the tower is to show not only a sense of movement and destination, but also that technical, open-guts aspect of construction. We want the aesthetics of the buildings to give a sense of the science that makes these cars such incredible machines.”