One of the buildings that has defined the Austin skyline, the University of Texas main building (the Tower) is turning 77 this year. The 307-foot tall UT Austin Tower, designed by Paul Cret of Philadelphia, was completed in 1937. The tower replaced the beloved old Victorian Gothic Main Building. The old main building was razed in 1934 despite the objections of many students and staff. All that remains of the Old Main Building are its old carillon bells (called the “Burleson Bells”, which are now exhibited outside Bass Concert Hall.
While the tower usually appears illuminated in white light in the evening, it is lit in various color schemes for special occasions–warm orange light to announce honors and victories, and crowned in fireworks at spring commencement ceremonies.
Carl J. Eckhardt Jr, head of the Physical Plant in 1931, supervised construction of the building of the campus landmark. Eckhardt devised the tower lighting system to take advantage of the iconic building to announce university achievements. Eckhardt’s orange lights first flooded the tower in 1937. In 1947, he helped create guidelines for using the orange lights.
A number “1” on all sides highlighted by orange lights signals that the university won a national championship. The full Tower glowing orange alone represents a victory over Texas A&M University, Commencement and other occasions the president deems appropriate. The Tower top bathed in orange symbolizes other victories or a conference title in any intercollegiate sport.
The Tower Bells
The sounds of the tower carillon are part of the UT community’s everyday experience. Every 15 minutes, you can hear the pealing of the bells, and on the hour, you hear the largest bell across campus.
A carillon is a set of at least 23 fixed, chromatically tuned bells sounded by clappers controlled by a keyboard and foot pedals. The design of the new Main Building’s belfry allowed for thirty-nine bells, but in 1937 the university could only afford to buy 16; Lutcher Stark, a member of the Board of Regents, donated the 17th bell. However, UT still did not have a full carillon, which posed a problem for carillonneurs. Not having all the notes available limited the number of songs the carillonneurs were able to play.
In 1985, Ms. Hedwig Thusnelda Kniker bequeathed money to buy 22 more bells for the carillon as well as the console and installation. However, the C# and B bells would not fit in the elevators. As a result, The University decided to put additional bells in the upper register, acquiring 39 instead of 22. The Kniker Carillon is 56 bells, making it the largest in Texasboth in terms of tonnage and weight.
The University of Texas Guild of Carillonneurs is the student organization responsible for ringing the bells in the Main Building Tower. Did you know you can request a song to be played on the Kniker Carillon by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
UT Tower Tours
45 minute tours of the Tower are available for a cost of $6 but it is best to book ahead. Reserve a ticket by either stopping by the Texas Union Hospitality Center at 24th and Guadalupe, or by calling (512) 475-6636. Group tours are available for groups up to 25 people. Make sure your check on restrictions (e.g. no bags, no pocket knives, etc.)