Architect Michael Hsu Fashions an Office out of an Austin Church
Church conversions seem to be a dime a dozen these days as America’s church-going population dwindles and these solidly built structures are not well used. More often than not, old churches end up becoming elaborate private homes, despite their large interior volumes and often prominent locations, they are rarely renovated to accommodate other typologies. Tasked with creating a dynamic office complex for growing Austin-based company argodesign, local firm Michael Hsu Office of Architecture set out to do just that. The nationally recognized practice transformed 19,000 square feet of a disused 1930s Baptist church into a multistory headquarters. The scheme preserves, even accentuates, the existing architectural details, while also introducing flexible solutions for the future office.
“We carefully designed the office to preserve the character of the building and give argodesign room to invent,” explains Hsu. Informed by the Atomic Design Methodology, the main studio space includes a variety of areas suitable for informal group meetings and spontaneous interactions. “The renovated structure includes expansive glass guest rooms and a large entrance courtyard – it can be moved from a focused work environment to a place where clients and friends can gather seamlessly.”
The existing timber roof coverings were reinforced with new hybrid steel and timber truss components, while the brick church facade was opened up with glass and steel framed exposures to bring in a fair amount of daylight. Supported by a circular window that once contained stained glass, a central altar now functions as a landing and podium for public events. A modest yet warm material palette—black-clad metals, white oak wall cladding, and acoustic felt surfaces help support the newly exposed structure while also serving as the building’s primary interior finish.
Overhanging, oversized custom planters made by Articulture are among many biophilic accents that bring greenery indoors; helping to soften the open plan scheme. Meticulously planned and planted by Campbell Landscape Architecture, the property’s gardens function as additional workspaces. While a street-facing courtyard creates a relaxed connection to the South Congress neighborhood, a patio and rooftop terrace are programmed for quieter errands or lunching.
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Inside, a central kitchen – equipped with the latest appliances – features a counter and family-style seating and functions as a lobby. While the first and second levels are programmed for various functions including training sessions, the third floor features open desk space, communal tables and private conference rooms. A custom scrum wall consists of three movable whiteboards. A lounge and library occupy a cantilevered loggia that mimics the volume of the church’s original profile.
“We aimed for this studio to be as flexible and livable as it is beautiful,” says Sonia Prusaitis, general manager of argodesign Austin. “Movable partitions and minimal private offices allow us to reconfigure the space to suit us as our team grows and our needs change.” For him, nothing is too embellished. With calm materials and furnishings that can recede into the background, the office design gives room to the new ideas the company hopes to develop as it continues to expand within the converted church.