Main Building (University of Texas at Austin)

Main Building (University of Texas at Austin)
Main Building

The Main Building in the foreground
General information
Location 2300 Inner Campus Drive, Austin, Texas
United States
Coordinates 30°17′10″N 97°44′22″W / 30.2861°N 97.739321°W / 30.2861; -97.739321Coordinates: 30°17′10″N 97°44′22″W / 30.2861°N 97.739321°W / 30.2861; -97.739321
Construction started 1934
Completed 1937
Roof 307 ft (94 m)
Technical details
Floor count 28
Design and construction
Architect Paul Philippe Cret

The Main Building (known colloquially as The Tower) is a structure at the center of the University of Texas campus in Austin, Texas, United States. The Main Building's 307-foot (94 m) tower has 27 floors (32, if the carillon room above the clock mechanism is counted), and is one of the most recognizable symbols of the University, as well as the city.[1].




The University's Old Main Building in a 1903 photo.
The crowded stacks at the Life Science Library.
The facade of the Main Building. The inscription reads: "Ye shall know the Truth and the Truth shall make you free".

The old Victorian-Gothic Main Building served as the central point of the campus' forty-acre site, and was used for nearly all purposes beginning in 1882. However, by the 1930s, discussions arose about the need for new library space, and the Main Building was razed in 1934 over the objections of many students and faculty. All that remains of the Old Main Building are its old carillon bells (called the "Burleson Bells"[2]), which are now exhibited as part of a permanent display outside the university's Bass Concert Hall. The modern-day tower and Main Building were constructed in its place.


Originally, the University planned to use the tower as a library space, using a dumbwaiter system to carry books from the upper floors to the students requesting them on the second floor. Library employees were stationed every other floor and students on the ground floor filled out paper book request slips, which were sent upstairs by pneumatic tube, similar to bank tellers. The books were sent down to the students using an 18-story dumbwaiter. This proved ineffective, and the dumbwaiter was removed to place network and other computer cabling in the same shaft. The building now mainly contains administrative offices, though it does still house a three-floor life sciences library and the Miriam Lutcher Stark Library of early and significant editions of English Romanticist works. A small three-story elevator is now used to move books between floors. Another small elevator in the center shaft provides access to the lower 18 floors in the tower building. Several professors' offices and department offices are located near the top of the tower. In the floors above the stacks and below the offices, several floors contain the university herbarium (Plant Resources Center). U.S. Census data analysis is compiled and analyzed on some of these floors. Lastly, two secure elevators provides access to the entire 27 floors of the tower, including the professors' and departmental offices, the observation deck, and access to the carillon room.

The 307-foot (94 m) tower was designed by Paul Philippe Cret. Completed in 1937, the Main Building is located in the middle of campus. At the top of the tower is a carillon of 56 bells, the largest in Texas. Songs are played on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays by resident carilloneurs Tom Anderson and Chris Humphrey, in addition to the usual pealing of Westminster Quarters every quarter hour between 6 am and 9 pm. Student carillonneurs also perform on the instrument regularly.[3]

During World War II, an air raid siren built by the chief communications engineer for the University, Jack Maguire, was placed on top of the tower to notify Austin residents of incoming air attack. As there was never an air attack on the city, this siren was only tested and never truly used. The decommissioned siren was superseded by 4 electronic warning sirens that were installed in early 2007.[4][5]


On August 1, 1966, Charles Joseph Whitman, an architectural engineering major at the University, barricaded himself in the observation deck of the tower of the Main Building with a scoped Remington 700 deer rifle and various other weapons. In a 96-minute stand-off, Whitman killed 14 Austin residents and wounded many more.

Suicide site

Following the Whitman incident, the observation deck was closed until 1968 and closed again in 1974 following a series of suicide jumps.[6] On November 11, 1998, the Board of Regents of the UT system approved the recommendation of Student Association leaders and of then-president Larry Faulkner to reopen the tower observation deck to visitors.[7] After the installation of security and safety measures, the observation deck reopened to the public in 1999.[8][9] Additionally, the observation deck was closed in 2002 and 2003, due to the attacks of September 11, 2001, and was reopened in 2004 with added security.


The tower usually appears illuminated in white light in the evening, but is lit in various color schemes for special occasions, including athletic victories and academic accomplishments, such as commencement, preferably white and orange. To mark more somber events, such as the passing of a former president of the university, the tower remains darkened with an eerie grey glow through the night.

Carl J. Eckhardt Jr., head of the Physical Plant in 1931, supervised the construction of the Main Building Tower. Eckhardt devised a lighting system to take advantage of its commanding architecture to announce university achievements. Beginning in 1937, orange lights were used to symbolize important events at the University; by 1947, standard guidelines for using the orange lights were created, and these have been updated since. Today there are many different options for lighting, including a darkened tower to signify solemn occasions. An orange tower with office windows lit to form the numeral "1" is used for national championships in NCAA sporting events.[10]

See also


  1. ^ "UT Tower Shooting: Interview with Cheryl Botts Dickerson". News8Austin. Retrieved February 19, 2008. [dead link]
  2. ^ The Carillon The University of Texas. Accessed March 29, 2006.
  3. ^ The Main Building The University of Texas. Accessed December 1, 2005.
  4. ^ Turner, Tommy. "Tower Sounds Air Raid". The Daily Texan. November 17, 1942. Accessed January 19, 2006.
  5. ^ "Federal Signal’s CampusAlert System Installed at the University of Texas at Austin". May 1, 2007. Retrieved February 19, 2008. 
  6. ^ Beach, Patrick. "Drawn to the edge", Austin American-Statesman, September 12, 1999. Accessed November 15, 2009.
  7. ^ Board of Regents Meeting Minutes November 1998. Accessed March 29, 2006.
  8. ^ Tower Tours Offer Glimpse of UT History The Daily Texan. August 10, 2004 Accessed March 29, 2006.
  9. ^ Tower Tours Schedule Fall 2005 The Texas Union. Accessed December 1, 2005.
  10. ^ University approves new policy for lighting UT Tower On Campus. Accessed December 1, 2005.

External links

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