Ruby City is an oddity. Sited in a formerly industrial zone south of Downtown San Antonio dotted with islands of gas stations and fast food signs, and abutting a neighborhood known for its artist community, the 14,000-square-foot contemporary art center designed by Adjaye Associates is, by nature of its history, location, and design, a study in contradictions. In 2007, the late Linda Pace, daughter of salsa and hot sauce magnate David Pace, reached out to David Adjaye with a sketch of Ruby City, which she envisioned as a center to present her then 500-piece-strong art collection to the public. An artist herself, Pace would draw her dreams after waking up and have these sketches fabricated into sculptures (the institution's inaugural exhibition includes a work by Pace that renders the word STAY in fake blue flowers). Pace’s idea for Ruby City came during one of these nocturnal fantasias, when she envisaged a complex of towers and minarets in blazing red. Pace met Adjaye shortly before her death from breast cancer to discuss the project, and 12 years later, the building is finally opening. The result is far from a collection of windowless spires but is still, as Adjaye told Texas Monthly, “very shy.” On approach, my initial impression was of a thick-shelled aardvark or beetle, the building’s heavy stone massing and brilliant red color standing in stark contrast to the sea of parking lots nearby. The red, terrazzo-like concrete used to form the facade has been rightly celebrated by critics ahead of the building’s opening; the material was fabricated by Pretecsa, a company based outside of Mexico City, and is also strategically deployed in custom curbside bollards and benches in the sculpture garden. In person, its rich color is true to the photos. Despite the fortress-like street presence, Adjaye has tried to make Ruby City feel inviting. The way the entrance canopy gently lifts from the building and cantilevers over the plaza like the opening of a cave lends some much-needed lightness to the massing, a touch that’s mirrored on the reverse side, over the parking lot. Part of the inward-facing design is practical, as anything built in southern Texas must defer to the elements. To combat the harsh sun, two layers of curtains, one blackout and one shade, have been installed across the windows in all three of the building’s central gallery spaces; the building will be open only four days a week, with the blackout curtains otherwise drawn to protect the collection. Ruby-tinted steel grates, resembling crenelated brick from the ground, have been installed across every skylight to protect against monster hail. Once inside, it becomes clear that Adjaye Associates and executive architects Alamo Architects took great strides to enliven what could have become just another set of white-walled galleries. Flourishes abound. Pulls and fixtures were all designed in-house at Adjaye’s office, as were the molcajete- and metate-inspired benches and reception desk textured in rough, crinkled concrete. Faceted skylights brighten the steep, lengthy staircases, which are specifically designed to block the view of the second floor until visitors nearly reach the landings above. What at first seems to be a straightforward path through two extra-tall exhibition spaces (the third is currently ensconced in blue felt for an installation of Isaac Julien’s Stones Against Diamonds video, which will run for two years) actually meanders and reveals plenty of side passages and nooks with alternate views of the route just traveled. Similarly thoughtful, unexpected details are everywhere: an “eyelid” panel juts away from the building over a window on the second floor to direct views downward to the sculpture park; a conference room centered on a pair of doors taken from Pace’s bedroom is clad in timber; the adobe-colored concrete plaza extends inside to the reception area and into the elevator; a triangular cutout hidden in the overhang above the entrance looks to the sky but is only visible from directly below, Adjaye's James Turrell moment; a central gallery tall enough to comfortably, surprisingly, fit 16-foot-tall sculptures typically reserved for outdoor installation. These moves all spice up an interior that can still feel, at times, a bit too staid. There are now 900 drawings, paintings, videos, and mixed-media pieces in Ruby City’s collection, as the Linda Pace Foundation has combined its holdings with Pace’s personal acquisitions. Exhibitions will draw only from the permanent collection, and will likely rotate every two years, with the kickoff show, Waking Dream, presenting a twisted take on domesticity from international and local artists from the building's opening on October 13 through 2022. Combined with strategic views of Chris Park, a one-acre landscape of palm trees and bamboo groves down the street that is dedicated to Pace’s late son, from the double-height side corridor before entering the galleries proper, there’s enough discovery in both the art and the building to keep visitors coming back. In the end, the gestures add up, turning what could be a simple experience into something more multifaceted.
Posts tagged with "San Antonio":
As the candidate field for the 2020 Democratic nomination for president grows more crowded by the day, former United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro announced over the weekend—in both English and Spanish—that he is embarking on a presidential bid of his own. The 44-year-old San Antonio, Texas, native served as HUD Secretary for over two years under President Barack Obama and was briefly considered as a vice presidential pick for 2016 Democratic nominee Hilary Clinton. Prior to his tenure in the Obama administration, Castro served as the mayor of San Antonio for five years. During his time as HUD Secretary, Castro worked to create the National Disaster Resilience Competition, a federal program supported by the Rockefeller Foundation that awarded $1 billion for resilient housing and infrastructure projects to states and communities that were impacted by major disasters between 2011 and 2013. That sum was in addition to over $18 billion in conventional government funding awarded to disaster-stricken communities during the Obama administration. Castro also led the expansion of lead safety protections in federally assisted housing and helped to institute the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule to "finally fulfill the full obligation of the Fair Housing Act,” according to a 2017 memo. Castro also continued initiatives started under his predecessor that contributed to a dramatic decrease in the number of American veterans experiencing homelessness. While mayor of San Antonio, Castro successfully inaugurated a plan to bring “high-quality, full-day pre-k” to the city’s residents. In announcing his presidential bid over the weekend, Castro, citing a “crisis of leadership” under President Donald Trump, pledged to refocus American society to become “the smartest, healthiest, fairest, and most prosperous nation on earth.” Castro’s platform includes instituting universal healthcare, reforming the criminal justice system, and expanding access to higher education, among other initiatives. In a nod to his time at HUD while referencing a growing housing affordability crisis around the country, Castro also pledged to “work to make sure every American has a safe, decent, and affordable place to live.” To help achieve this aim, Castro also pledged to “invest in housing that is affordable to the middle class and the poor.” Castro also stated his support for a Green New Deal, a nascent policy initiative in the works from Democratic politicians, like Congressperson Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, that aims to transition the American economy away from fossil fuels and toward a sustainable and socially-just economic system. Castro pledged that as his first executive order as president, he would recommit the United States to the Paris Agreement, the global initiative aimed at keeping the temperature increase resulting from anthropogenic climate change under two degrees Celsius. With affordable housing and climate change increasingly in the news, expect more presidential hopefuls to highlight their plans for addressing these issues. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who announced her candidacy in late December 2018, for example, has already unveiled an ambitious affordable housing proposal of her own. If elected, Castro, the grandchild of a Mexican immigrant, would become the first president of Mexican descent and the first former HUD secretary elected to the nation’s highest office.
Some consider the most formative date in San Antonio's history to be the fall of the Alamo, while others believe it’s the day the World’s Fair took over the city for six months in 1968. It was just a dusty city before more than 6.3 million attended the HemisFair ’68. A few of the original structures built for the fair still exist on the 92 acres in the heart of downtown, and many of them were left unused for decades. In 2009, the San Antonio City Council established the Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation (HPARC) to revitalize a 37-acre new development, including a 4-acre park designed by MIG. The project’s name, Yanaguana Garden, comes from a folktale told by the Payaya Native Americans of a blue panther that chases a bird through the night sky. A drop that fell from its wings left the blue hole that came to be the source of San Antonio’s river. This fable inspired the mosaic tile benches, panther sculpture, murals, and a blue paved pathway that represents the river, which snakes through the entire site. HPARC’s mission for Yanaguana Garden was to bring both children and adults to the city center. MIG focused on placemaking, designing a public space with courtyards, greenery, artwork, and playscapes. The park features a winding promenade, partly covered by a vine-draped pergola, which leads to the central square with giant checkerboard paving by Pavestone Company. The entire park is illuminated by Lumascape street light fixtures and lined with Victor Stanley benches. MIG also installed an outdoor theater with a dedicated seating area, play equipment by Landscape Structures, and a splash pad water fountain by Vortex Aquatic Structures. In addition to the frolicsome furnishings, the landscape includes mature trees to provide shade. The saplings prevent soil run-off and help maintain proper irrigation year-round. This environmentally sustainable approach will also be applied by the organization to expand and improve the rest of what used to be the HemisFair World’s Fair Grounds. Yanaguana Garden at HemisFair The ’68 World’s Fair Grounds, San Antonio Landscape Architect: MIG Landscape Planting: Bender Wells Clark Design Lighting: Lumascape Playground Equipment: Landscape Structures, Corocord Splash Pad Water Wall: Vortex Aquatic Structures Custom Precast Spheres: Quickcrete Products Corp. Benches: Victor Stanley Paving: Pavestone Company Mosaic Glass Artist: Oscar Alvarado
When it comes to notable architecture in Texas, it would seem strange to place San Antonio on par with Houston or Dallas. As the second-largest city in the state, San Antonio seems to only mimic the kind of architectural largesse seen in those cities. There are plenty of jewel-like late modern skyscrapers and austere civic buildings by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, Caudill Rowlett Scott, and Marmon Mok in the city, but these are not the kinds of projects one would mention in the same breath as Houston landmarks like Johnson/Burgee’s Pennzoil Place and Williams Tower, Renzo Piano’s sublime Menil Collection, or Fort Worth's iconic Kimbell Art Museum by Louis Kahn. A selective itinerary of San Antonio’s past and future architectural projects reveals a steady commitment to buildings with bold, expressive forms that reference the city’s unique environment, history, and culture. Alamo City warmed up to these compelling architectural additions as it expanded during the late 1940s and early ’50s, and became a home to energy and utility companies during the 1970s and ’80s. Funded by philanthropic organizations and influxes of oil cash, many of these buildings are now hidden by giant, swooping highway overpasses, corporate plazas, and other developer-driven projects. Despite the earlier innovative and controversial projects, San Antonio remains overlooked. This will soon change. Newly appointed mayor Ronald Nirenberg has re-energized discussions about creating new housing, battling gentrification, and committing to more public art. This will certainly place a spotlight on San Antonio’s rich architectural offerings while reminding us of how these and other past projects have embodied this city’s distinctive topography, Latino heritage, and dry, arid environment. Emilio Ambasz’s Lucile Halsell Conservatory, completed in 1988 at the San Antonio Botanical Gardens, is a good starting point. Located on the city’s northeast side, Ambasz’s scheme took advantage of the sunken site with a series of prismlike canopies that appear to rise out of the bermed earth like upturned shards of glass. Each canopy creates its own kind of climate and features particular plant ecologies—architecture designed, as Paul Goldberger observed in 1987, for the interaction between plants and humans. The project is notable for its combination of building, landscape, and infrastructure into a seamless whole. The Lucile Halsell Conservatory accommodated some very particular environmental and topographical conditions, and did so with a formal and technological expressiveness unlike anything that had been built in San Antonio. Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta’s San Antonio Central Library, completed in 1995, continues in this vein. Here, cubic volumes are stacked at various angles, creating a series of triangular-shaped courtyards intended to be outdoor reading rooms. Legorreta’s debt to Mexican architect Luis Barragán’s minimalist polychromy is clear. Working with the painter Mathias Goéritz, Barragán created spaces framed by walls and surfaces doused in highly saturated reds, blues, yellows, oranges, magentas, and pinks. At his Central Library, Legorreta appears to invert Barragán with a simple, playful interplay of volumes that seem to be wrought from its own color palette as well. The reddish-brown colored cubes appear gutted in some places, revealing inner planes of yellow, blue, and purple. When viewed from the air, the Central Library appears otherworldly, framing circular plazas made from grass and limestone and located on a triangular-shaped site near the geographical center of the city, as if something from another time had arrived here. That a Mexican architect was chosen for this project is important. As the seventh-largest city in the United States, San Antonio has one of the biggest Spanish-speaking populations. Over 62 percent of its residents are of Latino origin. The appeal of Legorreta’s Central Library stemmed as much from the need for more public libraries as it did from the desire to reflect the city’s heritage. Though this was the first building in San Antonio designed specifically to reflect the city’s Mexican-American heritage, there are older buildings that expressed the cultural richness so important to the city. The Alamo and the four Spanish Missions (recently designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites) all combine Spanish and Catholic influences while referring to the rituals and structures of indigenous peoples. This is to say that San Antonio’s architecture continues to find a way to embody its venerable cultural geography. It also incorporates its distinct environmental geography. San Antonio is a city hewn from mesquite-dappled hills, limestone quarries, and deep-set aquifers. Lake|Flato continues to be the standard-bearer among the city’s firms for a kind of tectonic and environmental sensitivity that is immediately recognizable for its ingenious references to these conditions. Imagine a version of John Lautner’s spacious geometric forms where large cornices made from corrugated metal peer over meticulous compositions of glass, limestone, slats, and brise-soleil made from local woods, all culminating in views that privilege the rolling, arid mesquite and persimmon landscapes of the Texas Hill Country. This would not do justice to Lake|Flato’s work, but perhaps it is as close as we can get to a kind of South Texas regionalism. Yet some of Lake|Flato’s current work points to something altogether different. Their recently completed pavilion at Confluence Park designed in collaboration with Matsys connects the joining of the San Antonio River and San Pedro Creek, to nearby Mission Concepción, an 18th-century basilica. This is a highly-charged site in predominantly Spanish-speaking South San Antonio. The most visually arresting parts of Lake|Flato’s project are the concrete “petals” that reference the local flora while reminding the most architecturally astute observer of Spanish-born Mexican engineer Felix Candela’s sweeping hyperboloid structures, like Los Manantiales Restaurant (1958) in Mexico City’s Xochimilco Park, or the Chapel Lomas de Cuernavaca (also 1958) in Cuernavaca. Confluence Park is also part of the larger San Pedro Creek Cultural Park. This scheme is projected to transform a once-neglected 2.2-mile-long drainage spur into a cultural attraction with water features, public art, and areas dedicated to the preservation of local grasses and wildlife. In a nod to its aspirations, lead architect Henry R. Muñoz and others have embraced this project’s more common nickname—the “Latino High Line”—which may say more about Diller Scofidio + Renfro/Field Operation’s celebrated scheme than the actual goal of the project, which is to create a version of the Riverwalk devoid of its tourist traffic while celebrating Latino heritage. Urban designers are finding new ways to move San Antonio forward while referring to curious artifacts from the history of American cities. Architect Antonio Petrov, who teaches at the University of Texas at San Antonio and is the founder of Urban Future Lab, is one of the most outspoken voices when it comes to redevelopment in the city. He is a proponent of bringing back skyrides, which were already used during HemisFair ’68 as a means of connecting the city’s downtown with San Antonio International Airport. Petrov’s proposal, though evocative of pie-in-the-sky urban transportation schemes, is to be taken seriously. Similar proposals were actually in use at the 1932 Century of Progress Exhibition in Chicago as well as in Disneyland and Disney World (which were, in a sense, attempts to envision cities of the future.) Other schemes, though funded by corporate dollars and serious placemaking advocacy firms, are barely more pragmatic in their approach. A case in point is the proposed Alamo Plaza Redevelopment. Philadelphia-based Preservation Design Partnership authored one of the first master plans, a scheme that caused controversy when it called for relocating many of the businesses surrounding the Alamo and converting them to privately run cultural attractions. Current versions of the plan have done little to improve on the previous proposal. For example, the recent Alamo Comprehensive Interpretive Plan—spearheaded by St. Louis–based “placemaking” firm Peckham Guyton Albers & Viets; the heritage consulting firm Cultural Innovations; and landscape architects Reed Hilderbrand—still hinges on the creation of a pedestrian-friendly “Alamo District” designed to turn this historically charged site into an open-air museum. A previous scheme took this idea a step further by encircling the Alamo with a glass wall, as if preserving this architectural artifact in a kind of amber. There are plenty of other projects that are reenergizing the architectural scene in San Antonio. The city is in a bit of a gut-rehab frenzy, as landmarks like the Pearl and Lone Star Breweries have been renovated as pricey hotels and higher-end restaurants, all with the end goal of molding San Antonio into a destination for design-savvy millennials with money to burn, in hopes they will ditch an Airbnb in the picturesque King William District in favor of the Hotel Emma’s posh industrial-chic. It is in this milieu that Adjaye Associates’ Ruby City arrives as one of the most exciting projects to break ground in the Alamo City. This 14,000-square-foot gallery and contemporary arts center—scheduled to open later this year near the city’s burgeoning arts district—appears as a strange hybrid, part OMA Casa da Musica, part Legorreta Central Library. Adjaye’s building appears as a literal jewel, a faceted brick-red form whose speckled, punctured surfaces make it seem fleeting and otherworldly. But it is anything but that, for this building, which sits precariously on the edge of the one-acre CHRISpark in downtown San Antonio, will anchor the San Pedro Creek redevelopment scheme, and provide the Linda Pace Foundation’s extensive collection of modern and contemporary art with a bold, exciting home. Adjaye is still earning accolades for his groundbreaking National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., and with Ruby City soon to be completed, this will be the most significant architectural gesture for San Antonio—one that will hopefully inspire an influx of more commissions and projects of a similar caliber. How should we look at San Antonio’s architectural legacies and gestures? It is tempting to stack them up against those in Houston or Dallas, but in doing so, we would risk ignoring how one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States is busy generating its own architectural identity. Don’t call it haphazard, however. The pace of architectural developments in San Antonio may appear slow, but like the city, its architecture is humming busily from what once was an undetectable purr to something greater. This sleepy South Texas city is anything but, and its architecture will demonstrate how this is the case.
In 2007 the late artist and philanthropist Linda Pace—of Pace jarred salsa fame—had a vision of a ruby-tinted arts city come to her in a dream. The city, as Pace dreamed it, would become a rough outline for the 14,000-square-foot Adjaye Associates–designed museum complex that will house her foundation’s art collection in San Antonio. Pace passed away in 2007; more than ten years later, her vision is being brought to life bit by bit, an endeavor that is currently in full swing ahead of the building’s projected 2019 opening date. The $16 million dream is being translated into reality by architect David Adjaye and an international network of local architects, contractors, and fabricators who have made plans for a precast concrete panel citadel situated on the Texas plain. There, folded concrete surfaces and expanses of brut walls will house the 800 or so artworks collected by Pace and her namesake foundation. The pink complex is built out of a special concrete and aggregate mix crafted by fabricators across the border in Mexico that will result in a gleaming, rosy edifice. As explained by Mike McGlone, principal at Alamo Architects, the executive architect for the project, most colored concrete starts out in either gray, beige, or white tones, with pigments added incrementally to tint the mixture to the desired color. But ruby red pigment is a particularly difficult hue to achieve. For one, pigment can only be added little by little, resulting in a blended appearance that can appear muddled when combined with cement’s natural coloring. The process is made more difficult by the inherent structural requirements of the materials involved—the more pigment is added, the less resilient the final product—so while Pace’s dream called for a vibrant, beet juice–colored edifice, tests using traditional methods yielded less spectacular results. That was the case until designers began looking south of the border, where concrete fabricators Pretecsa can produce concrete panels made with red rock aggregate and red sand taken from local quarries. There, instead of starting with beige or gray bases, the fabricators begin with white concrete and add colored materials and tints to change the hue of the mix from inside-out. The fabricators include materials such as recycled red glass and mica in the mix to boost coloration, while also creating a glittering finished surface that will reflect sunlight throughout the day. Adjaye’s designs call for a collection of open galleries topped by a pair of sculptural light cannons that will bring light into the building. The complex will make use of several different concrete panel types, including rough surfaces that will line the upper sections of the building to better reflect the sun. Lower sections will be smooth to the touch, with a three-sided forecourt wrapping a sculpture terrace that features sandblasted surfaces. The folded concrete panel structure will also use cementitious panels along its roof, a system that will be supported below by a secondary weather-proof roofing system located directly below the outermost concrete layer. The complex is expected to be completed in late 2018 and will open to the public in 2019.
As implied by its name, Confluence Park overlooks the meeting of San Pedro Creek and the San Antonio River in San Antonio, Texas. Located about three miles south of downtown, the park acts as a gateway for the historic Mission Reach section of the San Antonio River. The $13.7 million project includes an education center and extensive landscaping that illustrates the diverse biomes of Texas. But what most visitors will remember about the 3.5-acre park are the nearly 30-foot-tall concrete petals that emerge from the ground to form a sprawling overhead canopy. Twenty-two of these sculptural panels are clustered together to form a single, large, open-air pavilion. Another six are paired together to form three smaller gathering areas. In addition to providing relief from the South Texas sun, these panels are shaped so that when it rains, they channel water into an integrated system of rainwater collection, filtration, and dispersal. All of this reinforces the stated mission of the park, which is to act as a destination for recreation while teaching important lessons about environmental science and sustainability. To that end, the design team sought to create a composition of architectural and landscape elements that used the same kind of logic found in nature. Ball-Nogues Studio, a Los Angeles–based design practice, established the park’s conceptual master plan. From there, the design was developed in close collaboration with the landscape architect Rialto Studio, Lake|Flato Architects, and Matsys, a San Francisco–based design practice that specializes in the development of new approaches to architectural design and fabrication. That particular skill set was critical in the development of the park’s concrete. Given the structural gymnastics involved, the project’s structural engineer, Architectural Engineers Collaborative (AEC), became an integral part of the design team as well. Although petals of steel, fabric, and wood were all considered during the design process, concrete was ultimately selected for its durability and permanence. Even though the majority of funding for the project came from private donations, Confluence Park functions as a public park, and so vandalism and long-term resiliency were key considerations. Despite the apparent complexity of the assembled petals, the design only required three unique petal shapes. These three forms were refined digitally using Grasshopper and Rhino. The resulting computer files were then provided to Kreysler & Associates and fed to their large 5-axis CNC router at their factory in California. The resulting Styrofoam “positives” were then used to manufacture the fiberglass “negatives” that were shipped to San Antonio to be used as formwork for the petals. Each of the park’s 28 petals was cast on-site but not in place. Given their complex geometry, a portion of the petal had to be exposed during the pour. This resulted in two contrasting concrete textures: a smooth finish where the concrete was poured into the fiberglass form, and a broom finish where the concrete was left exposed. As with many other aspects of the project, a custom solution was required here, too. A special eight-inch broom was used to apply the finish consistently to the petal’s curved form and to emulate the flow of water down the petals. After the concrete had cured for several days, the petals were lifted into their final positions. As with any tilt-up concrete structure, this was the moment when the highest stresses would be placed upon the petals. Adding to the complexity of the erection process was the fact that the petals had to be assembled in pairs: neighboring petals were joined to one another with two steel pin connections to form a determinant structure. The result of all this effort is a unique landmark on the south side of San Antonio. Despite the weight of the concrete petals—individual petals weigh between 15 and 20 tons each—the resulting structure feels remarkably light. The space between individual petals contributes to this feeling of weightlessness, while acrylic lenses embedded in the concrete add a bit of playfulness to the overall composition. In addition to illustrating the possibilities of contemporary concrete construction, Confluence Park demonstrates what is possible when a highly collaborative interdisciplinary design team works with an educated client to create something truly unique. It is only fitting that a park built to celebrate the confluence of diverse bodies of water be created by a confluence of diverse design professionals. Pavilion Design Matsys Landscape Architect Rialto Studio Structural Engineer Architectural Eng. Collaborative MEP CNG Engineering, PLLC Lighting Designer Mazzetti Energy Consultants Positive Energy Waterproofing Consultant Acton Partners This article originally appeared in the July/August issue of Texas Architect magazine.
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. Morton asks pressing questions of global warming, plastic in the ocean, and nuclear waste in his 2013 book, Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology After the End of the World. 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. The exhibition features works by Tara Donovan, Emilija Škarnulyte, Sissel Marie Tonn, and others.
The first part of phase 1 of the San Pedro Creek redevelopment in San Antonio, Texas, is now open to the public, and the waterway’s rejuvenation has been touted as a celebration of Latino culture in the city. San Antonio-based Muñoz and Company was tapped in 2015 to design the 2.2-mile-long restoration of what was then a concrete drainage ditch. The completion of phase 1.1, a 2,200-foot-long stretch of riverwalk christened San Pedro Creek Culture Park, marks just one part of a four-phase plan to revitalize the 2.2-mile-long creek. “As the Trump administration boasts about building a wall between us and our Mexican roots, San Pedro Creek will be a national symbol for Latino and Anglo communities actually coming together to celebrate their shared values, history, and future,” said Henry R. Muñoz, Principal in Charge at Muñoz and project lead. “This unveiling marks the start of San Pedro Creek’s restoration, turning this neglected creek into the ‘Latino High Line,’ which exemplifies the community’s rich heritage and stands for a national dialogue playing out in nearly every city across the country.” The opening of the first phase on May 5 coincided with the 300th anniversary of San Antonio and was commemorated by the unveiling of Rain from the Heavens, a public art installation cut on stainless steel panels depicting what the stars looked like that night in 1718. Also on display in the Cultural Park are murals that honor the local culture of San Antonio and surrounding Bexar County, by artists Adriana Garcia, Katie Pell, Alex Rubio, and Joe Lopez. San Pedro Creek once flowed freely through the city but has been deepened, rerouted, and sometimes covered entirely since the 1700s. Each area of the river will eventually have its own design and accompanying visual identity, but retain a focus on the local ecology, history of San Antonio, and the water itself. The San Pedro Creek Culture Park section is hemmed in by historic limestone walls, and features widened walkways, a new boardwalk overlook, benches, and new landscaping that uses indigenous aquatic plants and trees. The widening and deepening of the creek also boosted the waterway’s ability to sequester stormwater, in addition to the five new bioswales that were installed. Phase 1.2 of the project is under construction and set to finish in 2020.
A $450 million plan for the treasured historic site of The Alamo in downtown San Antonio is causing a stir. Architects, planners, professors, patriotic preservationists, and the public are in disagreement over a rejuvenation scheme that looks to open up the plaza but relocate a historic cenotaph in the process. The Alamo Mission (commonly known as just "The Alamo") is home to the 18th Century chapel, Shrine of Texas Liberty, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A 1930s cenotaph erected in tribute to the Texian and Tejano defenders who were killed in an 1836 Mexican onslaught is at the center of the debate. The plan devised by nonprofit Alamo Endowment, the Alamo Commission, the city of San Antonio, and the Texas Land Office, looks to move the cenotaph to declutter the plaza and allow it to become a space for events. To improve access, perimeter walls that enclose the state-owned Alamo Gardens would be removed. These, unlike the cenotaph, are not historic and their removal, according to officials, would add approximately five acres to the site. The walls would also be partially replaced by glass walls too. Of the $450 million, $110 million will be used to renovate and repurpose three buildings (owned by the state) as a museum. The historic battlefield site is a top destination for Texans and tourists alike, attracting around 1.6 million every year. Plans to modernize the site aim to triple these figures over a decade and add 2,000 jobs to the area. "A lot of the children that will be going to this museum and to the compound are not even born today," Gene Powell, an Alamo Endowment board member told the City Council. "Technology is going to change. Children are going to want things that are more exciting and more fun. They want to be able to see things." Some, though, are not impressed: "This proposal represents a failure to address the real concerns and needs of visitors and heritage tourists who are asking to see more of the Alamo—not aesthetic landscaping," wrote Glenn Effler in the San Antonio Express-News. "The re-created acequia and the trees are little more than window dressing, a cosmetic treatment to a historic battlefield that is in dire need of inspiring interpretation." Effler is a senior member of the Alamo Plaza Project and board member of the Alamo Society. His letter in full can be read here. Local resident Susan Green, speaking to the San Antonio Express-News, was also skeptical of the proposed master plan. She was worried that the glass walls would be "a stark, modern looking contrast to the architecture in all of downtown." In light of the scheme's criticism, though, a number of architects and others in the architecture discipline penned a letter of support for what they described as a "great beginning to a plan that should lead to a transformative place."
As architects, we believe that the Alamo Master Plan in its final form can restore both the Alamo and the integrity of this historic place in our city. We applaud this incredible effort. All the residents in our city and our state want this plan to succeed. To be a vital destination for everyone, it is equally important to have the plaza be a dynamic and welcoming civic space as it has been for the past 200 years—perhaps the most memorable place in the state. Like all good master plans, the first plan is the beginning of the conversation. We should honor the Alamo and Alamo Plaza by having a thoughtful “listening” period to allow the plan to get better (building upon the successes of the River North, Broadway, Hemisfair and South Town Master Plans). Alamo Plaza should be a memorable place for residents and visitors to return to again and again. A place that strengthens our city. On May 11, we hoped the City Council will approve the master plan conditional on the need for a continuing process that keeps the plaza as a connected civic space rather than a controlled-access outdoor museum. The plaza must be a welcoming and integral part of our city, balancing the historic aspects of the Alamo with the civic needs of the plaza.Thirty-one architects signed the letter, including David Lake and Ted Flato from Lake/Flato Architects and Lawrence Speck, professor, School of Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin. The letter can be read in full here. The day after this letter was posted online, however, David Lake published a critique of the master plan in The Rivard Report. He responded to elements in the master plan that in his view, were not addressed in an appropriate manner, notably the proposed glass walls. Here are a few of the key faults he noted:
The master plan creates new walls to the north and a west acequia which are not in historic locations and confuse the integrity of the battlefield. The arbitrary location of the north wall and the west acequia disrupt the plaza’s original character implying a much smaller space, which is not historically accurate. The walls exclude the community and disrupt connectivity, creating a place for visitors but inflexible to events that occur today. In this plan, it is no longer a community gathering place.Lake also argued that the plan only honored the Alamo Plaza of 1836 and "not the history of commerce in the plaza post-1836." His critique in full can be found here. If the master plan is approved, half of the sum required will come from San Antonio and the state, while the rest would be privately funded. A decision is due to be made on May 11. [UPDATE, 5/2/2017] This text has been updated from a previous version, published yesterday that did not include architect David Lake's critique of the master plan, which was also published that day. Further text from the signed architects' letter has been added to clarify their support for the "master plan process" rather than the master plan in its current form.
Brought to you with support fromThe Children’s Hospital of San Antonio is wrapping up an ambitious four-year $135-million renovation project to transform an existing downtown hospital campus into a fully dedicated, freestanding children’s hospital. The facility remained open throughout an intensive construction process involving interior demolition, relocating care units, exterior shell upgrades, and energy efficiency upgrades. A recladding concept, which extends the interior rebranding to the facade, is the most visible component of the project. The color palette is derived from a local artist’s mural on the existing structure became the basis for a rebranding strategy that seeks to improve visitor’s experience of the campus by benefitting the healing process and improving wayfinding. Colors are distributed onto the facade through a series of custom unitized channel glass assemblies that were the result of a close collaboration between Overland Partners, Bendheim Wall Systems, and Sharp Glass. The existing structure consists of five-foot concrete wings that extend out from the building envelope. With restrictive load limits and limited space for installation and maintenance, the design needed to be lightweight and convenient to assemble. Also, the team required a solution that could be manufactured in a range of custom colors, visible at long distances day and night. The project team developed a unitized modular strategy to consolidate three channel glass shapes into an extruded framework. Bendheim modified one of its existing systems to allow the glazer to preassemble the units in its shop so that the glass was bonded to both a head and sill extrusion. To ensure individual glass pieces did not make contact, the channels were set with a quarter-inch gap filled with a silicone backer rod and sealed with a translucent silicone. These units were harnessed together with a removable frame system developed by Bendheim in close collaboration with the architect and the glass installer. This allowed the units to be brought from the shop to the hospital, then strapped and hoisted into place by a three-person crew on each floor who would swing the unit into place. Units were lifted up into a pre-mounted head receptor and loaded onto an “elevator platform” that could be adjusted vertically to accommodate tolerance and deflection in the existing construction. This detail allows for movement over time without putting the glass units at risk. The adjustable, unitized system allowed the glazer to install, on average, an entire floor per day. Kris Feldmann, lead architect at Overland Partners, said that the value engineering presented a design management challenge to the project: “We saw the channel glass feature as something that was just as critical to the rebranding of the hospital and the work they were doing on the interior. One of the challenges of any project like this is that it is a very easy thing to remove as project budgets evolve. Having the owner’s confidence—because we had worked closely with the contractor, sub-contractor, and Bendheim—was really critical to keeping it on the project." The quarter-inch channel glass includes a ceramic frit that produces a unique translucent finish, allowing for sunlight penetration and providing a soft glow to patient rooms. At night, integrated programmable LED lights provide accent lighting for the facade. Several full-size panels were produced in a mock up to allow the team to confirm desired lighting details prior to construction. The units appear to be the same height from the exterior, but field-verified dimensions confirmed each floor height varied by several inches. This required every unit to be individually measured and coded by Bendheim to confirm a custom fit, and accurate color as specified by the architect. Beyond this colorful additive layer, most of the existing facade remained in place. The exterior shell includes replacement insulated glazing units and an interlocking metal panel exterior wall finish. Replacement windows consist of interior glazed window units to avoid having to re-scaffold the entire building as floors became open for construction. While the exterior is substantially complete, some components of the project remain under construction, including exterior gardens that feature culinary, play, and prayer programming.
Back on April Fools, the City of San Antonio and the local AIA San Antonio chapter announced the winners and runners up for the second phase of their river barge design competition (no joke). Their top pick: Houston-based design firm METALAB’s proposal for a multi-purpose electric barge that could serve both leisure-oriented activities as well as commuters on the San Antonio River. The barge could host dinner events, sightseeing tours, parades, and provide local transportation. Design-wise, much of this will be accomplished through a modular decking system of flexible components that can be adapted for the variety of proposed functions and programs. The design features a single deck for easier wheelchair accessibility. The railings—taking design cues from papel picado (Mexican folk art paper cut out decorations typically displayed during holidays and special events)—lean out to made the barge feel more spacious. In second place: a proposal by San Antonio-based Luna Architecture + Design with Neptune Beach, FL-based Lay Pittman & Associates. And in third: Austin-based Sadi Brewton + Jonathan Davies. There were twelve teams in the initial competition phase, with the top three finalists given $7,500 to expand their design concepts. METALAB's concept could replace the existing aging barge network. “The current river barge design was created for HemisFair ’68 to offer visitors rides up and down the length of the river,” said Roberto C. Treviño, District 1 City Councilman and architect, in a statement. “METALAB’s design is modular, modern, and offers the possibility for barge uses we couldn’t have imagined before. This not only presents a great option for tourists, but is an opportunity for residents and the local entrepreneurial community to propose new and imaginative ways to use the river barges.” The city will present the proposal to City Council this spring, and expects to put out two requests for proposals this May, one for construction, and the other for programming and operations. If the design moves ahead, San Antonio residents and visitors should expect to see a barge prototype on the river by 2017, and the final fleet ready in 2018.
In downtown San Antonio, famed New Haven, Connecticut–based firm Pelli Clarke Pelli (PCP) teamed up with local Alamo Architects to design the new Frost Bank Tower headquarters. It will be the first office tower to join the San Antonio skyline in three decades and one of several new PCP buildings in Texas, including Dallas’ McKinney & Olive tower and the Shraman South Asian Museum and Learning Center. Weston Urban and KDC of Dallas selected the firms in part because of its extreme care and attention to detail. When the firm's representatives shared the project with the selection team, they presented an impeccably detailed paper model of downtown San Antonio with a variety of different towers to illustrate a variety of choices for the site. Appropriately, PCP’s project leads, principal Bill Butler and Fred Clarke, are both native Texans who have spent ample time in San Antonio. The new tower is proposed to be 400,000 square feet, have an emphasis on sustainability, and will be integrated with the new design of the San Pedro Creek area, where architect David Adjaye just revealed his own art gallery. PCP's plan will include a new bridge and plaza. Ground breaking is slated to begin fall 2016 and completion in 2018 or '19, loosely coinciding with San Antonio’s 300-year anniversary in 2018.