History of the UT Tower

Architectural drawing by Paul Cret of the Tower

For nearly a century, the UT Tower has been the academic symbol and architectural emblem of The University of Texas at Austin.

Paul Phillipe Cret, a French architect educated at the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, designed the Tower as the centerpiece of the Forty Acres and “the heart of the university.” At the time it opened in 1937, the 307-foot-tall Tower was the only structure that competed with the Texas Capitol dome on the Austin skyline.

Close up of the clock on the Tower

The Tower’s walls are constructed of Indiana limestone, its red roof tiles were produced in Spain, and much of the marble of its steps and floors was mined in Tennessee, Missouri, New York and Vermont. Austin shell stone, a kind of locally quarried limestone, frames doorways of the Main Building. West Texas marble can be found along the grand stairway and Austin-made bricks from the first university building, “Old Main,” were used for some inner walls. The rim and hands of the Tower clock are gilded with gold leaf, and above the observation deck, a belfry contains the Knicker Carillon, 56 bells that ring on the quarter hour and are played by a guild of student carillonneurs.

Tower construction from 19th Street looking up Unviersity Avenue 1937

Cret originally designed the Main Building and Tower to house the university’s central library, with the book stacks in the Tower and two spacious reading rooms, the Hall of Texas and Hall of Noble Words, below. Students browsed card catalogs on the second floor, in what is now UT’s Life Sciences Library, and librarians on roller skates would retrieve the requested books and send them downstairs in a dumbwaiter to be checked out. As enrollment and the library’s holdings increased, the university outgrew its original space and opened the Undergraduate Library and Academic Center in 1963 and the Perry-Castañeda Library in 1977.

The Tower stands as an icon of UT excellence, community and spirit. Since the 1930s, it has been bathed in a combination of orange and white light to celebrate occasions and honors including commencement, athletics victories and academic achievements.

Tower at night lit orange with #1 from CMB 2010 sunset

In fall 2022, The University of Texas System Board of Regents announced a bold new vision to keep the Tower shining bright into its second century. Their $26 million investment will be matched by Longhorn Nation to restore and renovate the Tower, from its carillon bells and observation deck to the decorative lettering on its lower 10 floors — ensuring that, as Cret said, the Tower remains “the image carried in our mind when we think of the place.”

Renovating & Restoring the Tower