Story at a glance:

  • Hotel Magdalena is not only the first boutique mass timber hotel in North America but also the first mass timber hotel in Austin, Texas.
  • Designed by Lake|Flato, the hotel features exposed timber throughout.
  • Emphasis on the outdoors was also important to the project, as the complex was designed around Live Oak heritage trees, which became focal points for outdoor gathering spaces.

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.

For Austin-based hotel operator Bunkhouse, differentiating their properties among the city’s bustling tourism industry precedes pandemic-related design priorities. More than just a good night’s sleep and a great cup of coffee, Bunkhouse’s passion for great hotel design is rooted in the communities in which they exist, creating an awareness of and connection to a sense of place. Their newest project, Hotel Magdalena, epitomizes this design philosophy as the first boutique mass timber hotel in North America.

A “Fortunate Design”

hotel magdalena mass timber austin gbd magazine

Photo by Casey Dunn

In collaboration with renowned architecture firm Lake|Flato, Bunkhouse opened the 89-room boutique hotel at the peak of the pandemic, revealing design foresight that would make even the biggest skeptics question their clairvoyance.

“What Bunkhouse does best is bring people together, so the type of disruption [from the pandemic] was anathema to what we are about,” says Amar Lalvani, CEO of Standard International + Bunkhouse. “But it forced us to get creative. We are fortunate we designed the hotel with generous outdoor spaces, wide exterior corridors and terraces for the guest rooms.”

This “fortunate” design—according to Lake|Flato—began in 2014, and was driven by the desire to bring the Texas Hill Country aesthetic into an urban environment.

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. The hotel includes a ground floor restaurant, swimming pool, outdoor pool bar, and event space that all integrate into the central courtyard terraces.

Exposed timber walkways canopy the outdoor corridors and extend into guest rooms. This marriage between interior and exterior spaces is augmented by scenic landscaping from Ten Eyck Landscape Architects that bridges visitors’ experience through flowing, organic greenery. Hotel occupants access their rooms via spanning outdoor wooden porches, encouraging occupants to spend time outdoors and engage with other hotel guests at a safe distance.

“Our firm tries its best to always connect people to the place often in a very literal way like the outdoors and to nature but also in a more figurative way to the city and culture of the surroundings,” says Michael Britt, associate, Lake|Flato.

Hotel Magdalena’s design, Britt says, was intended to flip the traditional hotel experience.

“In the past people have thought about hotels as a place where they go into their rooms, close their blinds, and lock themselves away,” added Britt. “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.”

Texas Pioneers

hotel magdalena mass timber austin gbd magazine

Photo by Nick Simonite

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.

Natural light beams in through large windows in each room, highlighting the dowel-laminated timber roof and floor, left intentionally exposed as part of the guest experience. Light-frame construction comprised the interior wall system, and additional wood detailing is incorporated throughout the property for decorative distinction.

“It’s such a different, unique experience that really differentiates this property from anywhere else.”

Bunkhouse CEO Lalvani echoed Razzaque’s sentiment: “Utilizing mass timber construction is consistent with the feel and integrity of a Texas lake house, which is a crucial component to Hotel Magdalena’s atmosphere,” says Lalvani. “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.”

“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 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 US forests in one year.

“Our Breed of Hospitality”

Hotel Magalena opened its doors in October 2020. In keeping with Bunkhouse’s ethos of creating community-driven experiences, Hotel Magdalena—situated on Music Lane, amid Austin’s most vibrant culture and history—will feature a host of cultural programming that includes live music, nature walks, and local partnerships, bringing guests and locals together and allowing travelers to experience the authentic Austin.

Initial feedback from guests recognizes the design team’s focus on its surroundings. “While the interiors of Hotel Magdalena are warm and inviting … what really inspires are the generously-inviting outdoor spaces and a symphony of striated outdoor place-making,” writes lifestyle blogger The Honest Truth.

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,” says Lalvani. “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.”

Project Details:

Project: Hotel Magdalena
Location: Austin, Texas
Size: 73,735 square feet
Architect: Lake|Flato
Client: Bunkhouse