The acclaimed engineering firm Burns & McDonnell designed the Seaholm plant. The Seaholm Plant also serves as an example of the Art Moderne architectural style that proved common among municipal waterworks and powerhouses built from the 1930s through the 1950s. However, unlike other pre-1950 utility building projects, Burns & McDonnell chose to rely entirely on masonry construction rather than brick. As a result, Burns & McDonnell had to provide intricate drawings that detailed the pipe system in case problems arose; brick structures allowed for bricks to be removed and replaced to check for pipes whereas masonry removal was far more daunting.
The powerhouse served as Austin's primary source of electricity during the 1950s, then served as part of a network of power sources that provided for an ever-growing need for electricity, both due to population increases and exponential growth in electrical products. By 1989, Seaholm could no longer provide power worthy of financially justifying its operating costs. Thus, the city turned Seaholm into a training facility. By 1996, the city closed the building.
One could argue that it's rather short operating history speaks to the societal evolution that occurred during the last half of the twentieth century, one that saw a marked need for electricity. The U.S. electricity consumption increased ten-fold between 1950 and 2010, an annual increase of 4% each year. By the 1970s, the entire nation faced an energy crisis, which forced municipalities to find or build more power sources, from nuclear and hydro to traditional methods. Thus, when Austin deemed Seaholm outdated by the 1980s, it spoke volumes about how the designers in 1948 could not that foresee the dramatic cultural shift to an electricity-dependent society that occurred within a matter of decades (and that rate increased steadily through the first decade of the twenty-first century, before finally slowing down).
In recent years, the power plant has been renovated alongside a high-rise so that they combine to form a mix of 143,151 square feet of office space within the old power plant along with 280 condos and 48,363 square feet of retail shops, restaurants, and meeting space in the adjacent high-rise.