This month will mark the unveiling of the $338-million Moody Center arena on the University of Texas at Austin campus. In addition to hosting the university’s men’s and women’s basketball teams, the multi-purpose venue is slated to become a major entertainment destination for concerts and events. 

“The Moody Center will become the premier entertainment venue in Austin—it’s a place that welcomes everyone to come together and experience the best in live music and college basketball,” says Jeff Nickler, senior vice president and general manager with The Oak View Group (OVG), part of the development team.

The vision for the Moody Center was to avoid the closed-in nature of the previous arena and create something more organic for the communities the arena will serve, according to Jonathan Emmett, Gensler’s global sports leader. 

360-degree glass curtain wall

The arena features a 360-degree glass curtain wall that allows users sweeping views of Austin landmarks.
Photos by Ryan Conway/Gensler

“From Day 1, the big idea for the Moody Center was to make sure that there was a strong connection between Austin, the city, and its largest music venue in town,” he says.

The result is a quasi-transparent design that allows audience members to see out of the building while providing interior views to people outside. That design led to the creation of a canopy where the cover provides shade while also allowing openness throughout the building. A terrace provides panoramic views of the university and of Austin’s downtown.

panelized wood material

The panelized wood material used for the building’s canopy is suitable for interior and exterior use, creating a seamless transition to the ceiling material.
Photos by Ryan Conway/Gensler

The 70,000-sq-ft canopy is a wood product, Parlex Prodema, that was panelized and assembled on an engineered backing panel. As the material is suitable for both indoor and outdoor applications, it allowed a consistent thematic element throughout the structure. The canopy outside the building essentially becomes the ceiling and wall surface within the building, framed by a 360-degree glass curtain wall. The center also includes a curtain system that allows the exterior views to be blocked off for specific events such as concerts.

“The upper bowl screen is a system of aluminum framed, fabric-wrapped panels that pivot down from the roof trusses to the bottom edge of the upper bowl,” says Gensler architect Laura Brodersen. “The system operates in three sections: north, east and south to conceal varying sections of seats of the upper bowl depending on an event’s capacity.”

the arena’s height

In addition to being built in a confined area on the university campus, the arena’s height was limited by restrictions on structures blocking sightlines to the Texas State Capitol.
Photos by Ryan Conway/Gensler

Realizing a Vision

The Moody Center will replace the Frank Erwin Center as the indoor sports arena for the University of Texas. The former venue was retired this year after 42 years of service. Often referred to as The Drum, the two-tiered facility could accommodate 16,500 people for basketball games and up to 17,900 people for concerts and events. 

In 2017, the University of Texas President’s Real Estate Advisory Council, Stafford Sports and Gensler began working together to establish a public-private partnership (P3) structure for the proposed Moody Center that outlined financial business terms, infrastructure improvements, development schedule and conceptual design. 

They also analyzed various on- and off-campus site options and chose a 7.5-acre location for the arena north of the Erwin Center and adjacent to the Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

The Moody Center

The Moody Center’s displacement ventilation system cools by using vents located under each seat so energy isn’t wasted on cooling the empty space above the floor level.
Photos by Ryan Conway/Gensler

“Capturing the university’s vision and needs with a conceptual design proved advantageous to help attract developer interest and define the economic details for the project,” explains Todd Runkle, Gensler principal and managing director.

OVG and CAA Icon were selected as the development and project management partners in 2018. Under the P3 agreement, they will fund the project and manage the Moody Center for 35 years. 

OVG, along with partners Live Nation and C3 Presents, will receive proceeds from all non-University of Texas events held at the arena. Already, concerts and other events valued at more than $15 million have been booked. The university will remain the owner and reserves the right to host basketball games, graduations and other events.

Gensler is leading the design and AECOM-Hunt is serving as general contractor.

The Moody Center will boast a 530,000-sq-ft layout that includes 10,000 seats for sports events and as many as 15,000 for concerts and events.

arena location

Since the arena location is on a hill, designers were able to use the geography to create direct access for each level rather than a single main entrance.
Photos by Ryan Conway/Gensler

Behind the Scenes

While the clean design of the exterior was critical, the functionality of the venue is paramount to its success. Integrating the necessary elements required for a modern entertainment venue into a seamless structure was a major challenge for the design team. 

“There are large parts of this building and large parts of the operation of this building that nobody will ever know exist. But ultimately, those elements are going to be the true success of this building,” Emmett says. “Having an ownership group like OVG, who really understands how these buildings work and how they function, has helped us make this an incredibly efficient building.”

To coordinate all of those “backstage” elements such as mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineering while retaining the consistent building aesthetic, Gensler designers leaned heavily on their extensive background with digital models.

The Moody Center

The Moody Center is designed to accommodate 10,000 spectators for sports events and as many as 15,000 for concerts and other events.
Rendering courtesy of Gensler/Design Illustration Group LLC

“We took a lot of the same precision that we use on smaller projects and dialed up to that larger scale,” says Gensler design director John Houser. “Everything was modeled, and we would then fly around that model daily to identify any conflicts between MEP and structure and architecture early on in the process.”

An example of how foresight and preparation allowed the inclusion of innovative ideas is the Moody Center’s displacement ventilation system for climate control. Instead of a conventional air conditioning system that blows colder air down onto the event space, the Moody Center’s system works in reverse. Air vents are set below each of the seats in the venue, pushing the cooler air directly into the arena area. 

“It kind of flips the whole model upside down,” Houser says. “But these are not systems that you get halfway through the project and decide to integrate. They really affect the way you think about the overall strategy.” 

The system offers a cost savings by reducing the waste of cooling air in the dead space above the event space and even allows the system to operate in specific areas as needed. But it required integrating a complex design element into an already complicated process.

The Dell Technology Plaza

The Dell Technology Plaza outside of the arena serves as a connection to the other athletic and entertainment venues on the east side of the University of Texas Campus.
Rendering courtesy of Gensler/Design Illustration Group LLC

Site Complexities

From its inception, the Moody Center was planned as a key element for a sports and entertainment district on the east side of the University of Texas campus where several of the university’s athletic facilities are located. Fitting into that location came with an enormous tradeoff, Houser says.

“The challenge of that was the available land,” he says. “There’s just not a lot of it on university campuses, and the facility needed to be shoehorned into an incredibly small site.”

The site restrictions extended beyond the geographic footprint. The location is subject to a legal restriction called a Capitol View Corridor, enacted to preserve the view of the Texas State Capitol. This applies to Interstate 35 that runs adjacent to the site and effectively imposed a cap on the Moody Center’s height.


In addition to regular seating, the center features 44 suites and porch suites, four premium club spaces and 2,000 club seats.
Rendering courtesy of Gensler/Design Illustration Group LLC

“We joked that the site was constrained on all six sides,” says Brodersen. “Normally you’d only have site boundaries, but this is also limited with top and bottom boundaries as well.”

Since the site is located on the side of a hill with a 45-ft drop from east to west, the building height limitation meant the east side of the structure had to be 75 ft underground. But there were advantages to be found as well. The site’s incline allowed the arena to be built with walk-in access at every level rather than having a single entrance and requiring patrons to climb to the seating areas.

Utilities posed another major challenge. A large number of city and university utilities run through the Moody Center area. These utility conflicts had to be resolved before work could begin on the required excavation as well as the road realignment. It was “a huge coordination effort” between the project team, the city and the university to sort out the issues, Brodersen says. All the utilities were vertically mapped in detail to ensure they could be routed through the site without conflicting.

An example of the scale of the problem was the loading dock beneath the building. Since the site did not have space for a traditional street-level loading dock, a 35-ft-long ramp was built under the main plaza on the west side of the building. The complicating factor was the presence of several key utility lines that conflicted with the planned tunnel. To keep the project on track, a small portion of the tunnel was built and the utilities routed over it.

“We effectively built a concrete bridge that was just a small section of the future tunnel so that we could run the utilities Day 1,” Houser says. “Eventually, the rest of the excavation met up with it and extended that tunnel to its full length.”

Completing the 100,000-sq-ft ramp was critical for access to the site during construction. Additionally, it lies completely below the Dell Technology Plaza, which is essentially the front door to the Moody Center and serves as the keystone connection to all the venues in the sports and entertainment district. 

That plaza will feature several large oak trees already on site at the start of construction. While a couple of trees on one side of the site were protected and left in place, several others had to be temporarily relocated. 

“Normally you’d only have site boundaries, but this is also limited with top and bottom boundaries as well.”
—Laura Brodersen, Architect, Gensler

Heritage oaks are strongly associated with Austin, and retaining some of these 200-year-old trees was a priority for the team. It was a complicated process to safely move a tree of that size. The access ramp built for the center had to be designed to handle the load of moving the trees. 

“From a finished product standpoint, the value of those trees is incalculable,” Houser says. “They create this sense of establishment for the whole project and really help tie the Moody Center into the larger campus from Day 1.”

The project involved several elements beyond the construction of the center itself. These included building a new basketball practice facility adjacent to the arena and reconstructing a key thoroughfare, Red River Street, for the east side of the UT campus around the site. 

The amount of construction activity on the small site was further complicated by other nearby construction efforts, such as the football stadium’s $175-million South End Zone project. Coordinating access for equipment and materials was assisted by the closure of Red River Street, since it effectively created two roadways into the location.

COVID-19 lockdowns had an unexpected upside for the project by limiting the activity on campus and allowing construction efforts to continue unabated. At one point during the excavation operations, more than 400 trucks were moving in and out of the site per day. A total of 285,000 cu yd of material was excavated.

“The success story of this project is that everyone—the design team, the client side, the university—bought into this vision that the arena could become this really special place where people create these incredible memories over the course of their lives,” Houser says. “There’s so many people along the way that worked together to fight through the challenges and come up with really novel solutions that allow for this vision to become a reality.”