There aren’t many universities with their own skyscraper. So why does Texas have one, and what was it built for?
For more than 80 years, the UT Tower has been the academic symbol and architectural emblem of The University of Texas at Austin. The 307-foot-tall Tower was completed in 1937. Its neo-classical style is Beaux-Arts, named for the influential Parisian school that produced its architect, Paul Cret. It also incorporates elements of Spanish colonial revival, such as its red tile roof. For many years, the Tower was the tallest building in Austin. Today, it ranks 27th.
The Tower is a commanding symbol of pride on the Austin skyline, especially at night. From its beginning, the Tower has been bathed in a combination of orange and white light to celebrate academic honors and sport victories. Its windows can be used to form numbers, such as “1” for national championships, the number on a Heisman winner’s jersey, or the last two digits of a class’s graduating year. There are many lighting configurations. Most commonly used, the top glows orange to commemorate regular-season victories or a conference title in any intercollegiate sport, and it stands dark on somber occasions.
The Main Building and its tower were originally designed to serve as the campus central library. The library’s book collections were cataloged throughout the impressive 27 floors of the Tower. To access them, students browsed card catalogs on the second floor in what is now the Life Sciences Library, then submitted their request at the main desk. Up above, librarians were stationed on every other floor. They would roller skate to retrieve requested books and send them down to the desk via dumbwaiter to the students below.