Monday, September 20, 2010

U.T. Austin Main Building and Tower, Predawn

Most photos of the U.T. Austin Tower neglect the Main Building, which is its base. While shooting some test panoramas the other night, I thought I’d take a different approach and emphasize the Main Building. To get all of the Main Building and Tower into the photo, I shot this as two rows of three photos. Every photo was shot at three different exposures, 3 stops apart, so that a high dynamic range (HDR) image could ultimately be created. The photos at each exposure were stitched together and projected rectilinearly to form a 172 megapixel image. Each of those images was then cropped down to 72 megapixels, and combined into a HDR image. The HDR image was tonemapped, then cropped down to 65 megapixels to create the image above. Blogger, which seems to be allergic to large images (probably because it’s a free service), has subsequently scaled-down the image to a mere 1.5 megapixels. Hopefully, it’s still of some interest.

It’s worth noting that the photo was taken at night, while the sky was about as black as it ever gets in this city. However, the 15 second, ISO 400 exposures that captured the dimmest details in the scene were able to find color and detail in the sky that was invisible to the naked eye. This is one of the pleasant surprises sometimes associated with the HDR process.

Architecturally, one of the interesting things about the U.T. Austin Main Building and its Tower is that they were built at different times. The Main Building, if memory serves, dates back to 1933. The University knew it wanted a tower added to the building, so a space was left for it with a conceptual “insert tower here” marker on it. Years after the Main Building was complete, a design competition for the Tower was held and the selected design was built in the space reserved for it in 1937. They appear to be a single, seamless structure, but internally they are disjointed, which causes a lot of confusion among people looking for the elevator to the second and third floors of the Main Building, as the elevators and the floors of the two buildings are separate, even though they are both accessed from the first floor of the Main Building.

The Tower is a symbol of U.T. Austin, and one of the city’s great landmarks. I have a particular fondness for the Tower, because I’ve been fortunate enough to have an office on its 25th floor for many years. Regrettably, I will be forced to move to an office in another building in October. In my University career, I’ve had far worse offices than the one I’ll be moved to, including offices in an old machine shop across the hall from the University’s nuclear reactor, a desk in the wide part of a hallway in what had once been the furniture repair shop, and even—during my years in exile—an office out at the University’s Balcones (AKA “Pickle”) research campus (in the Commons building, just down the hall from our Cray supercomputers). For all of their problems some of those offices were quite interesting, but none can hold a candle to my Tower office – the views from up there are among the best in Austin. I’m really going to miss the place. If only I could get visitation rights....


  1. Susan Gatlin1:35 PM CDT

    That is a wonderful shot, multiple I did read your details. How sad for you, I know your perch up there gave you some wonderful ops to see the world from a different perspective. Good luck on the move. Come by and tell us all about it.

  2. Very nice "shot" of the building & tower. Sorry you're going to have to move.