In late June, the board of directors of VIA Metropolitan Transit in San Antonio, Texas, approved plans for the Westside Multimodal Transit Center at the corner of Frio and Houston streets. The city hopes that the project, which broke ground on July 14, will spur development in this somewhat sparse and dilapidated area just west of downtown. The neighborhood is currently home to such differing facilities as a University of Texas at San Antonio campus and the Bexar County Jail.
Designed by New York City–headquartered EE&K, a Perkins Eastman company, with local help from architecture firm Ford, Powell & Carson and landscape architecture studio Bender Wells Clark Design, the transit center taps into San Antonio’s rich history of urban squares. It will service the city’s growing network of city bus and VIA PRIMO bus rapid transit service, expand its B-Cycle bike share system, and may accommodate future rail service as well.
Perkins Eastman has plenty of experience with this kind of project. The firm previously worked on Houston’s Northern Intermodal Facility and Los Angeles’ Union Station. “We got the job because we knew how to take a transit project and turn it to a civic purpose; use the same dollars to create a plan around the facility that will make it a center piece of future redevelopment,” said Perkins Eastman principal Stan Eckstut. “We started by looking at the streets, instead of looking at bus facilities, and said ‘lets’ purchase a whole block, turn it into a square with busses on the perimeter, and make it a wonderful place to wait for busses or arrive for work, with lots of shade, landscape, art, and cafés.’”
The design of the transit center takes its cues from the adjacent International–Great Northern Depot (1908), a historic train station designed by Harvey L. Page in a fantastical Spanish Mission style, which was converted into a bank in the 1980s. The depot’s circular dome, as well as the turning radii of busses, inspired the circular, 20-foot-high canopy that rings the site.
While primarily composed of a simple palette of structural elements, the design team added tile mosaics to the column covers, “to add a little more beef, so there’s something to look at,” said Eckstut. The canopy is topped by a photovoltaic array that will generate much of the power needed to light the project. A stand of cedar elm trees fills the expansive interior of the 90,000-general-square-foot plaza. Permeable pavement and an underground retention system control stormwater runoff. A light tower installation by San Antonio artist Bill Fitzgibbons is planned for the plaza entrance to make it easily discernible from long distances.
As a security strategy, San Antonio opted to stay away from cameras. Instead, the city and the architects opened up views across the facility, in the hope that once the site is activated there will be enough activity to keep it safe. “They were willing to take a positive views of their riders and people in area,” said Eckstut. “There are at least a dozen development sites nearby that are vacant, or parking lots, or one story buildings. It could be major place for people to live and work near downtown.”
Currently Perkins Eastman is putting together a manual for future transit stations in San Antonio. “It’s full of lessons on how to approach each transit facility,” said Eckstut. “It advises to think beyond stopping and going, to expand the idea of the platform to be a public environment.”