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Almost Anything Goes in Santa Barbara
Courtesy MCASB

Almost Anything Goes: Architecture and Inclusivity
Museum of Contemporary Arts Santa Barbara
653 Paso Nuevo, Santa Barbara, California
Through April 13

It is impossible to underestimate the role that museum and gallery exhibitions have played in the history of modern architecture. Figures like Giuseppi Terragni, Lilly Reich, Bernard Rudofsky and, today, Neil Denari and Diller + Scofidio have all designed for and in the space of the gallery. They often designed exhibitions before they could get a building commission, or during slow economic times, but for all of these figures the gallery was a site where they could theorize or construct models that were still spinning in their heads but not yet possible to realize. Some of the most exciting ideas in 20th century Avant-garde architecture were first thought out in galleries, such as Frederick Kiesler’s Endless City, and his “L and T” method of installation design. In recent times, Diller + Scofidio’s Tourisms: suitCase Studies (1991) can surely be said to have lead to their design for The Brasserie, Boston’s ICA, and the just unveiled Gray Box gallery/theater at MoMA. Though the historic links from gallery to building are clear, critics often assert that architects in galleries do not produce architecture but art or, worse, architecture posing as art. This argument is often, but not always, a canard for architects who long for physical spaces where they can experiment, communicate with the public, and succeed or fail. The gallery space provides an opportunity for architects to experiment in real time, and space has never been more important than today when digital design can imagine the most hyperbolic forms, use of new materials, and geometries that may or may not be buildable. Benjamin Ball of Ball-Nogues Studio, a practice that has flourished in the design of installations, makes exactly this point about their work for galleries. Their goal, Ball admits, is to be in dialogue with the 75 years of artistic practice, but even more they want to do research about craft and the process of production.

Design, Bitches, Masters of Architecture, 2012.
Courtesy Design, Bitches

These issues of design intent, production, and even reception are all played out in the exhibition Almost Anything Goes: Architecture and Inclusivity at the Museum of Contemporary Arts Santa Barbara. Conceived and co-curated by Brigitte Kouo, a designer with an interest in architecture, and the museum’s director and chief curator Miki Garcia, it smartly selects a group of young Southern California designers all working in different areas of architectural research and production. Ball-Nogues Studio was a natural inclusion in this survey. They are joined by Amorphis, Atelier Manferdini, Design Bitches, dO|Su Studio Architecture, Digital Physical, and Variate Labs.

The entrance to the exhibit foregrounds an eight-foot-tall sculptural object, exo, 2013, created by DO/SU Studio Architecture and its principle Doris Sung. It is a creative study for a multiple layered building facade if it were made of thermo-bimetals, in this case aluminum, a “smart… material that inherently responds to temperature, curling when heated and flattening when cooled.” It aims to challenge our perception of a facade as only a protective coating when it could be, as Sung said, “a responsive and active skin.”

Gallery view revealing several installation pieces.
Courtesy MCASB

Scattered around the gallery are luscious candy colored tabletops created by Atelier Manferdini that foreground architecture’s “communicative value” and look good enough to eat. The architects in this exhibit are young so one wants to encourage all sorts of experimentation strategies, but also to warn them to be aware of the possible clichés of art world production. All of the works in the exhibition do focus on architecture. The sculptural wall pieces by Amorphis could benefit from an updated reading on the critiques of minimalism, but still they suggest a relationship between the viewer and the work of art mediated by personal conditions—a major concern of architects. Another installation that straddles the strategies of art but still makes a convincing case for what architects can bring to the debate are the photographs by Design Bitches that use personal images of the architects standing in for the male heroes of yore. They are quite convincing and hilarious. Design Bitches also has a beautifully crafted series of concrete bags arched across the gallery ceiling like clouds dripping rain that playing with notions of “heaviness and somber lightness.”

The old installation pros Ball-Nogues produced the most convincing object and creative design strategy with their Mickey Mouse ear–like paper lamp. It was created by shooting paper pulp though a pressured sprayer into molds of flexible inflatable fabric. These paper lamps are one-off prototypes in the gallery, but suggest a way of creating objects of mass production. Ball-Nogues Studio is now working on its first building in San Antonio, Texas.

Santa Barbara is a seductive landscape of historic mission architecture. One does not expect to find adventurous design here. So the curators are to be congratulated for making this exhibit happen in their enticing shopping mall gallery. It displays again the amazing depth and creativity of young architects in the Southern California region.

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Laying Down the Law
Brantley Hightower

The Courthouses of Central Texas
By Brantley Hightower
University of Texas Press, $45.00

Texas, with its 254 counties, each containing a courthouse, has far more than any other state. (Georgia, with 159 counties is a distant second). San Antonio–based architect Brantley Hightower’s slender book, The Courthouses of Central Texas, which showcases 50 examples, is a succinct tribute to one of the most admired groups of buildings in the state.

In March 1957, Architectural Record published an article, “Lockhart, Texas,” written by the English critic Colin Rowe, then teaching briefly at the University of Texas. It remains today perhaps the single most penetrating critique of the Texas courthouse as a generator of urban form. According to Rowe, while,

The place of origin of the type is presumably a matter of academic interest… it is just possible that its place of culmination is in central Texas… where the brilliance of the atmosphere lifts the most modest architectural statement to a new potential, the idea becomes completely clarified; and for the unprejudiced eye, the eye which is willing to see, a number of small towns do present themselves as very minor triumphs of urbanity… As a form of emotional complement to the interminable terrain, the impact of these four-square, geometrical, concentric little towns is discovered to be one of remarkable intensity. They have, all of them, something of the unqualified decisiveness, the diagrammatic coherence of architectural models…

Hightower seems to have been taken by this concept of the “diagrammatic coherence of architectural models.” His presentation of the courthouses as a united collection of “incongruous architectural artifacts” (18) is scrupulously regular. Selected from the counties surrounding San Antonio, Austin, and Waco, they are presented in chronological order in a neat succession from the first, built in 1970, to the last, built exactly 100 years later in 1970. Each courthouse is given a two-page spread, which includes a single black and white exterior photograph, an elevation drawing of the principle facade, a site plan showing the courthouse and the immediate surrounding blocks, and a short descriptive text giving key dates and names. The drawings are all to the same scale, in the elevations 1 inch equals 18 feet and in the site plans 1 inch equals 222 feet. (The irregular scales are presumably a result of fitting the drawings to the pages of the book.) Although the site plans indicate the main circulation corridors of the publicly accessible ground floors, in the manner of the famous 1748 Nolli Map of Rome, the book contains no interior photographs.

Hightower begins and ends the book with short explanatory chapters. In the first we learn about the main types of courthouse squares that are named after the specific towns in Tennessee, Virginia, and Pennsylvania that they first appeared. In the Shelbyville square, which is the most common, the courthouse sits in the center of a single block. The Harrisonburg square is shifted over half a block so the courthouse faces a single incoming street. The Lancaster square is shifted in two directions so the courthouse faces four oncoming streets. Finally, the Two-Block square is, as its name indicates, the result of combining two blocks so that the square functions more as a public park. We learn that the reason that most of the courthouses were built in the last three decades of the 19th century was because in 1874 the Texas Legislature passed a law allowing counties to issue bonds to pay for municipal buildings.

In the concluding chapter we learn about the architects, particularly San Antonio architect J. Riely Gordon (1863–1937) who designed some 18 distinguished courthouses in Texas built in the decade between 1890 and 1902 when he relocated his practice first to Dallas and then to New York. (Of these, however, only six were built in counties included in the book.) Gordon’s designs were unique for their sculptural, centralized massing and floor plans typically containing a central square atrium connected by four angled hallways leading to quarter-circular entrance porches. The atrium, which connected to a central, windowed tower acted as a chimney drawing air up and through the building for surprisingly effective summer cooling. We also learn the reason that so many of the old courthouses look oddly fresh and new is a legacy of the Texas Courthouse Preservation Program, initially sponsored by then governor George W. Bush in 1999. Between 1999 and 2014, 180 grants were awarded to 96 counties, resulting in the full restoration of 59 courthouses across the state.

Because Hightower’s book follows several others about Texas courthouses, the question inevitably arises: What justifies this re-presentation? Hightower’s critical engagement of the subject is more implied by his methodology and selections than stated directly. He writes somewhat contradictorily, for example, that “it may seem misguided for a small community to make such a large investment in architectural spectacle.”(141) But isn’t precisely the point of these buildings to be eye-catching landmarks? He continues, “As compelling as the courthouses of central Texas may be, they are products of a time and a culture that no longer exists.” (146) But if they don’t embody repeatable, universal design values able to transcend their original context then why should an architect working today bother studying them?

As an author, he seems to have been most interested in the documentation, which visually is extremely satisfying and noteworthy in its refinement. However, to what larger end is this series of elegant drawings? Although he advocates for architecturally defined, human-scaled public urban space, it is not clear how this is to be achieved based on his portfolio of courthouses. As a contrast, when architect Clovis Heimsath wrote his manifesto-like book about the vernacular architecture in central Texas, Pioneer Texas Buildings: a Geometry Lesson (1968), he concluded quite strongly:

We can talk about the geometry of these early Texas buildings and that is their glory, but it is the poignancy of the environment they create, set in the Hill Country, that is the “why” of this book… I want these houses to speak out against the sham of current American domestic architecture. The fraud is so appalling, it becomes the aesthetic sin of the age by its very magnitude: that we snug Americans can live in our endless four-square rooms with our endless eight-foot-high ceilings while the outsides say everything stylistically under the sun is a fraud—we want it, so we have it. (153)

Heimsath’s selection of diagrams and photos provided a design methodology for generating new forms created through geometric re-combinations of the base components of the buildings he documented. Hightower as an architect begins a similar process in a series of evocative diagrams where he layers the courthouse elevations over each other to create the shadowy outlines of an ur-courthouse form. However, this exercise only appears on three pages before it is abandoned. It is at points like this, where the author starts to manipulate his carefully gleaned data in intriguing ways, that one wishes he would have continued. What would have made this book—significantly written by an architect instead of an historian—more meaningful is if it presented a method for synthesizing the architectural and spatial elements of the courthouses and their urban precincts to make new designs that possess the pleasing qualities of the old.

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Tobin Center for the Performing Arts
Mark Manjavar

Strangely out of place, yet harmoniously so, the recently completed Tobin Center for the Performing Arts in San Antonio is the best work of architecture in the city in decades. Its closest rival, literally, would be the Central Library designed by Ricardo Legorreta in the 1990s a few city blocks away. It is a shame it has taken nearly 20 years for San Antonio to once again embolden itself with vision and purpose for its citizens.

Looking at the Tobin one is first struck by the marked contrasts of the building itself. On the one hand there is the historic Spanish Mission facade of the Municipal Auditorium. And then there is the angular, asymmetric glistening folded metal screen that veils the addition, which comes alive at night with a dynamic lighting display. The project houses three performance spaces, the largest of which accommodates 1,768 people with no seat further than 150 feet from the stage. Its construction tells a tale of the changing times in architecture, where technology and craft are once again at the forefront. That is the tie binding the historic facade to its contemporary partner.

The architects preserved the historic Spanish Mission Facade of the Municipal Auditorium, while cladding the new building elements in perforated metal panels with integrated LED lighting.

Designed by Seattle-based LMN Architects with local firm Marmon Mok Architecture as associate architect, the Tobin has many advanced elements that set the building apart. First and foremost is the dynamically lit metal skin that wraps the proscenium. It is a complex arrangement of folded and perforated panels, realized parametrically, that screens the building’s stepped, windowless masses with a modulating pattern of 18,000 panels, 1,300 of which are unique. Forming distinct yet-interrelated volumes around the building, the veil interlocks around a triangular support beam cantilevered from the panelized weather tight primary building skin. The panels form a continuous band woven both vertically and horizontally creating a seesaw effect that allows for light to reflect in different directions. Designed with eight different panel types sized to match the existing building’s limestone blocks. The result is a facade that has dimensional qualities and a richness of lighting effects both during the day and at night.

Facade Consultant
Lighting Design
Horton Lees Brogden Lighting Design
Metal Plate Wall Panels
Seating Riser System
Gala Systems

Inside the main performance hall, a pneumatic flooring system allows for the complete transformation of the stepped auditorium seating into a flat floor within 23 minutes. The sheer mechanical acrobatics that the system undergoes is mesmerizing to watch. Banquets and symphonic concerts can be pared on a single day, which opens up the possibility of endless uses and unique experiences within the main hall.


One of the more noticeable and aesthetically prominent elements within the building is the integrated back-lit balcony fascias. Used to signal intermissions, augment a performance with ambient lighting, or create effects, the LED illumination system with a full spectrum of color was not possible just a few years ago. This may be the single most evidently aesthetic element within the hall, one that remains in the shadows until needed. Aside from being a backdrop to the lighting, they serve as a sophisticated dynamic sound baffle system. Perforated with a vegetal pattern that repeats, the fascias absorb sound and displace it throughout the large vertical volume. Together with adjustable panels located behind the seating, they can either be programmed to control reverberation for amplified music performances, or to increase reverberation for acoustical performances.

The Tobin Center showcases a development process that stems from a larger effort within the City of San Antonio. The client’s vision with clever financing made possible by the city is working to catalyze a metropolis that prides itself on its tradition of art and culture. The project successfully blends a historically important building into the present with its juxtaposition of old and new architectural elements, as well as functional and aesthetic building systems. This combination of pragmatism and aesthetic intent should serve the creative community as a model for future projects in the city.

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The Hemisfair Confluence
Courtesy Gustafson Guthrie Nichol

In December, Seattle-based landscape architecture firm Gustafson Guthrie Nichol (GGN) unveiled designs for a new civic park within San Antonio’s 1968 International Exposition grounds, otherwise known as Hemisfair. Inspired by the city’s tradition of public gathering spaces and intimate relationship to its eponymous river, the 16-acre park includes plazas, plantings, and promenades, as well as a meandering water feature. Part of an ongoing redevelopment of the 90-acre Hemisfair site on the edge of downtown, the project integrates six new buildings, totaling over 600,000 square feet of mixed uses, and provides direct connections between San Antonio’s resurgent core, River Walk, and historic neighborhoods like Lavaca and King William.

“We did a lot of research into the history of San Antonio to find out the things that make this place special,” said Kathryn Gustafson, a founding principal of GGN. “What a great city. It’s such a party town. This is a civic park for people who naturally go out all the time.”

Hemisfair Park will create connectivity between San Antonio’s core and adjacent residential neighborhoods. It includes an event lawn and stage, shaded promenade along a meandering water feature, and quiet, contemplative gardens.

In addition to GGN’s research, a program put together by the Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation (HPARC) from community input informed the park’s design. HPARC hired planning consultancy MIG, which conducted four months of public information gathering sessions in order to produce a programming document that was handed over to the landscape architects. “The way that the programming was developed was through public meetings and stakeholder charrettes and surveys,” said Andrés Andujar, CEO of HPARC. “MIG is very organized about how to get this information from the community. We ended up with eight programming sections that included our zocalo (plaza), a promenade, a lawn, an area where we had water and shade, which we are calling The Shallows, and so on. When GGN arrived we were available to provide a consultant-led community developed program for the civic park.”

“Andrés is one of the most professional clients I’ve ever had,” said Gustafson.
“It’s a luxury to have a client that comes prepared with a well-thought-out scope and program.”


GGN’s design is multi-layered, with specified zones for the different uses San Antonians said they wanted from this public space, and a variety of typologies that respond to the city’s diverse cultural and natural history. The plazas and a gently curved event lawn combined can accommodate 12,000 people around a stage for music and other performances. This function can be activated day and night with both local and touring acts to create a consistent draw. For the less extroverted, there are placid gardens grouped near the few historic houses that remain at the fringes of the Hemisfair site, quiet areas where “you can read a book or take your elderly parent for a walk,” said Gustafson.

The water feature emerges from a source fountain in a plaza at the northwest corner of the site and then travels along a tree-shaded promenade in a channel that refers to San Antonio’s historic acequias—the irrigation channels dug for the original Spanish mission that later helped define the grid of the modern city. In the southern half of the site the water gathers in shallow pools inspired by the natural limestone formations that collect water throughout the surrounding Hill Country. The water will be a mix of reclaimed municipal water and processed stormwater gathered on site.

GGN is leading a design team that includes local and national firms. San Antonio–based Alamo Architects is providing architectural and urban design services. Seattle engineering firm Magnusson Klemencic Associates is the sustainability and water management consultant. Construction is expected to begin in 2016 once the west wing of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, which currently occupies part of the site, is demolished.

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Brantley Hightower
Five years ago Cotulla had two hotels. Today it has closer to 30 with more under construction.
Brantley Hightower

In May of last year, The Architect’s Newspaper ran an essay about how the ongoing oil boom in Texas was impacting the built landscape. Since then the cost of a barrel of oil has plunged from a high in July of 2014 of $120 a barrel to less than $50 as of February 2015.

Despite dire predictions that such a price drop would shut down production in plays such as the Eagle Ford in south Texas, that has not come to pass. The boom is still alive and well.

To better understand what this means for the architecture of the region, the town of Cotulla is worth closer examination as a case study. Located in the heart of the Eagle Ford play midway between San Antonio and the U.S.-Mexico border, Cotulla was established as a stop on the International-Great Northern Railroad line in 1882. Its economy remained primarily agricultural throughout most of its history and for the majority of the 20th century its population hovered between three and four thousand. Since the 2010 census its population has ballooned as it has been overrun with individuals coming to work the oil fields outside of town. In addition to the RV parks and “man camps” that have sprouted up between the interstate and town, there has been a remarkable boom in the construction of chain hotels.


Five years ago Cotulla had two hotels clustered around the Interstate that runs to the east of town. Today it has closer to 30 with more under construction. They are some of the tallest structures in town and these 2-4 story wood-frame buildings are perhaps the most remarkable change to the built environment of Cotulla. Constructed as quickly and as inexpensively as possible, they exemplify the challenge of building for a boom economy. After the oil has been pumped and the legions of roughnecks leave, most of these hotels will be empty. It is an issue local leaders have already begun to consider.

“Everything that we do has to be with the end goal in mind of being sustainable for the future,” said Larry Dovalina, Cotulla’s City Manager. One use being considered for the surplus hotel rooms is to incorporate them into a free trade zone. Cotulla happens to be located such that truckers driving from the agricultural regions of Mexico can get to Cotulla on a single tank of gas. The hope is that the town could become an inland transfer point for goods entering the U.S.


Today there are really two towns of Cotulla. One is the bustling nexus of semi trucks, oil field workers, and cheap chain hotels along the interstate. The other is the still somewhat sleepy small town about a mile to the east. At first glance, the historic part of Cotulla looks much as it did 80 years ago. The depression-era courthouse still sits upon the hill. The commercial strip along Front Street still faces the old railroad tracks that represent the reason Cotulla came to exist in the first place. What is lacking is any ostentatious example of the wealth that theoretically has come to the area as a result of the oil boom. There is no lavish cultural center or unnecessary monorail. But Cotulla now has things that people elsewhere take for granted. The streets are paved. The schools are better than they have ever been.

This is a reflection of the measured approach community leaders have taken to develop a strategy to allow these two Cotullas to coexist. It remains a challenge to make Cotulla appealing for both a temporary worker who needs a cheap hotel room for the night and a family who wants a place to live in the future.

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Grid Shell in the Park
Doug Fletcher

This summer, San Antonio’s Travis Park—a newly revitalized green space originally established as Travis Plaza in 1870—is playing host to an architectural installation by 14 graduate students from the UTSA College of Architecture. F2, as it is called, is a grid shell prototype that spans more than 50 feet with only 2 inches of material thickness. It evolved from a research project studying minimal surfaces, inflatables, branching, cellular structures, and centenaries.


F2 is made from 4,800 linear feet of ½-inch-by-2-inch spruce timber sections and 760 CNC cut Coroplast folded panels. The assembly is bolted together into a grid shell with more than 1,000 galvanized nuts and bolts and 2,600 washers. The footings are water jet cut from ½-inch steel plate, welded, and attached to 30-inch screw piles. It took two weeks to fabricate the individual parts and the graduate students installed it in five days with the help of 13 volunteers.


The project was designed and fabricated under the direction of Andrew Kudless, Director of Matsys and the 2014 Dean’s Distinguished Visiting Critic at UTSA, and Kevin McClellan, Co-Director at TEX-FAB and lecturer at UTSA. David Shook of SOM San Francisco provided structural design support during research and Datum Engineers did the final design engineering.

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Spurring Development
The architects hope the new transit center will activate the western end of Downtown San Antonio.
Courtesy Perkins Eastman

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.”

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Briscoe Western Art Museum
Though the expansion of the Briscoe opened some years ago, the museum only just now completed renovations of its main gallery spaces, finally unifying the project.
Lara Swimmer

Lake|Flato has just finished its latest project, a renovation and restoration of the Dolph and Janey Briscoe Western Art Museum in San Antonio. The opening comes several years after the firm completed an expansion of the Briscoe in the form the Jack Guenther Pavilion, which demonstrates Lake|Flato’s sensitive and wonderfully rendered approach. A strange order to say the least—the new building opening before the existing building is finished—but considering the varied and convoluted history of the 1930s-era public library that eventually became the Hertzberg Circus Museum before the Briscoe turned it into its primary exhibition space, not to mention that of the Riverwalk, the story plays directly to the very nature of its surroundings.

Sited on the southeast bend of the Riverwalk across from La Villita and adjacent to the historic Presa Street Bridge and to the city’s oldest pump station, which has been in use since 1891, the Briscoe’s two-building campus is flanked by a landscaped function space. Walled and beautifully paved, the grounds serve to unify the project with contemplative paths and a large multi-purpose area designed by Ten Eyck Landscape Architects. Somewhat disconnected from the Riverwalk, the museum complex sits back, bordered by an access road looping around the campus. Required for access by the San Antonio Water System, which manages the pump station, the ring road serves as an unlikely drop-off. If that had not been the case, one could easily imagine Lake|Flato and Ten Eyck deftly and thoughtfully connecting the site to the Riverwalk, stitching the museum’s access to the bustling activity below.

Courtesy Lake|Flato

Facing the river like fraternal twins, born years apart, the two buildings are separated by a breezeway that provides access from the river to the museum. Intently different, yet remarkably well paired, they are contrasted by their material expression. The elder is dressed to the nines with gray Indiana limestone, taut and expressively carved with skillful hands and attention to detail; the younger is rough hewn in buttery Leuders limestone and patinated copper with great expanses of glass that diffuse its mass. The only connection between the pair is a two-story copper-clad bridge, its upper level enclosed to handle the transportation of artworks between the buildings, the lower open. Matching stone coursing, window insets, and overall massing tie the two structures together in an unconscious and nearly imperceptible way. Where the old building speaks with bulk, carvings of images, and words, the new building does so with material and form.

Lara Swimmer 

Stepping into the Briscoe’s main lobby off of Market Street, the only direct access, one is taken by the craftsmanship. The two-story volume is meticulously brought back to life from the storied days of its first use. Its cork floors have been replaced with chocolate honed travertine, but all else is there: the buffalo hide treaded staircase, outfitted with a new, elegant glass guardrail to meet the current code; marble baseboards; multi-colored gilt ceiling; and carved wood paneling. The T. Kevin Sayama and Andrew Andoniadis–designed museum store, with its elegantly detailed casework, is within eyesight. An exhibition space converted from a three-story book archive is now two stories and is used smartly for both sculpture and two-dimensional pieces. Completing the lower floors is a digital learning lab and expansive reading room used to exhibit art within bookshelves repurposed as hybridized vitrines. The upper floor accounts for the remainder of the exhibition space. Eighteen-foot-high ceilings and original wood and terrazzo floors—wonderfully restored—line the four large, sturdy, well-conceived spaces of the original building.

Courtesy Lake|Flato

Navigating the Briscoe’s interior is simple and direct. The circulation spine that bisects the museum building leads from the staircase and elevator directly to the bridge linking the Jack Guenther Pavilion, which houses the museum’s multi-purpose spaces. Over three levels, Lake|Flato kept the pavilion simple, with the same footprint, access, and material language. The firm has, nonetheless, created vastly different experiences. The uppermost level is structurally intricate and voluminous with exposed steel trusses, which, according to project architect Matt Wallace, “refer to the iron work of the Presa Street bridge, its patterning and detail.” Deep and asymmetric awnings keep the harsh Texas sun from entering the building throughout the year and a small, yet perfectly placed lookout projection serves as a visual reminder that the building is in the heart of the city, overlooking the river. The second floor is neatly detailed and functionally driven, while the ground floor is present and connected to the landscape. Subtle and expressive details can be found throughout the pavilion building, like a cantilevered awning clad in the same cedar battening as inside and an exterior sculpture niche designed to align with access routes for visitors.

The Briscoe Western Art Museum and the Jack Guenther Pavilion come together exceedingly well in downtown San Antonio, one of the most unique and culturally complex places within any city in the United States with its rich and layered history evidenced by the phrase “six flags flying over Texas.” “The Briscoe adds to that history both architecturally and with its content,” said Steven Karr, the museum’s executive director, who believes “it is a metaphor for the City of San Antonio’s growth and evolution.” Ultimately, the building is not one that challenges the role of architecture. The museum design, with the addition of the Jack Guenther Pavilion, quietly does what all great architecture should: It weaves into its context forcefully, yet in a sophisticated, legible manner that neither panders nor subjugates. As a collaborative project with Ford, Powell & Carson, Ten Eyck Landscape Architects, landscape designer Pam Brandt, and the San Antonio Water System, Lake|Flato took a site in dialogue with the San Antonio River, Presa Street bridge, and the jumble of different contextual elements and proved once again that architecture can and does present solutions for an ever changing world.

Viguier’s Victory

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Labor Day Plans

Check out these exhibits this weekend before they close for the fall
Looking for something to do this Labor Day weekend? Check out some of our favorite architecture and design exhibits from across the country that we've covered over the summer. They're all closing this fall, so don't wait. Go get inspired! Donald Judd: Specific Furniture SFMOMA The exhibition presents a mix of his work and his acquired pieces that served as major influences. “The difference between art and architecture is fundamental,” Judd once wrote. “Furniture and architecture can only be approached as such. Art cannot be imposed upon them. If their nature is seriously considered the art will occur, even art close to art itself.” 50 Years After Whitney Young Jr. On view through November 24, 2018 The Octagon Museum 1799 New York Ave NW Washington, D.C., 20006 Thursday–Saturday, 1–4 p.m. Fifty years ago, civil rights leader Whitney M. Young Jr. stood before a crowd of mostly white and male architects as he delivered a historic speech that called out racism and other issues of diversity in the architecture and design industries. Today, the profession has arguably improved thanks to his words and subsequent leaders. A new exhibition, 50 Years After Whitney Young Jr., at the Octagon Museum in Washington, D.C., surveys the legacy of the National Urban League, which Young led for a decade, and his impact on the AIA. Poetic Structure: Art + Engineering + Architecture MAK Center for Art and Architecture Los Angeles, California The widely-traveled exhibition titled Poetic Structure: Art + Engineering + Architecture showcasing the engineering and design legacy of Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill (SOM) will be on display at the MAK Center for Art and Architecture in Los Angeles through September 2. Hyperobjects Ballroom Marfa 108 E. San Antonio St., Marfa, Texas Through October 14 Hyperobjects is co-organized by philosopher and Rice University professor Timothy Morton and Ballroom Marfa Director and Curator Laura Copelin. It looks at Morton’s theory in addressing the prevalent ecological crisis faced by the world today. With immersive video and sound installations, landscape interventions, and other direct sensory experiences, the artists’ pieces seek to challenge the way the audience sees and experiences the universe. GlassBarge The Corning Museum of Glass has tapped the McLaren Engineering Group’s nautical and entertainment departments for the creation of GlassBarge, a mobile glassworking studio set to travel from Brooklyn across the state.
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Weekend Edition: Asbestos is back, and it’s as bad as ever, among other news
Missed some of our articles, tweets, or Facebook posts from the last few days? Don’t sweat it—we’ve gathered a few the week’s must-read stories right here. Enjoy! AIA calls for blanket ban on asbestos after online uproar After a week of outrage on social media, the AIA submitted a formal comment in opposition to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's recent decision to enact a SNUR on asbestos-containing building products. San Antonio’s architecture has a bright future illuminated by a rich heritage San Antonio is the second largest city in Texas, but it is constantly overshadowed by its brethren architecturally. That's all changing as more projects, many of which reference the city's history, are coming online. Initial notes on Houston after theory Houston is a city that has seemingly developed out of step with the rest of the country, operating on a cycle of boom and bust tied to the oil, not stock, market. But when faced with climate change and other issues, can it adapt? Stay cool, and see you next week!