San Antonio firm transforms vacant industrial building into sunlit workspace.Dissatisfied with their two-story office, San Antonio architecture practice Overland Partners recently went looking for a new home. They found it in an unexpected place: a long-vacant plumbing supply warehouse within the city's burgeoning arts district. The 1918 Hughes Plumbing Warehouse offered the firm exactly what they wanted—a large open floor plan—in an architecturally refined package. The timber-framed, brick-clad building "is simple," said project architect Patrick Winn, "but it's really elegant and beautiful when you're able to look at it." The problem was that years of disuse had left their mark. "When we first viewed it, it was really far gone," recalled Winn. The original windows had been broken up, and the roof had flooded. Undaunted, the architects took on an extensive renovation project, with the result that today the former plumbing distribution center is a boon not just to Overland, but to the neighborhood as a whole. Prior to renovation, Hughes Warehouse was entirely encased in a double-width brick wall, except for a few garage door openings and two levels of clerestory windows. While the clerestories, approximately 16-20 inches and 20-25 inches in width, provided a good dose of daylight to the interior, they did not provide views out, nor did they facilitate the transition from parking lot to studio. "At Overland we really enjoy blurring the line between the outdoor, natural realm and the indoor, built realm," said Winn. "Right from the get-go we said: we have to cut a courtyard into the building and elongate that entry sequence." Overland carved out approximately 2,000 square feet of space for the new courtyard, which is faced with a custom glass and steel curtain wall. The transparent opening floods the office interior with light and frames views for the occupants. It has also become a de facto community space. "What's been nice is that runners' groups and cycling groups are starting to use our courtyard as a hub for activity," said Winn, who notes that live music and other events at a neighboring coffee shop are an additional draw. "It's brought a lot of life and energy into our space from the courtyard." To secure the courtyard after hours, the architects designed custom steel gates to replace the original, graffiti-covered garage doors. To tie-in to the warehouse's arts-district location, and to pay homage to the graffiti, Overland looked to Jackson Pollock for inspiration. They pixelated photographs on Photoshop before transferring the file to AutoCAD and sending the pattern on to Rivercity Industries, who laser-cut the design into the doors. The doors themselves were fabricated by Overland Workshop. "From the exterior, especially when the lights are on, when you drive by, there's almost a twinkling effect," said Winn of the perforated gates. "They're really neat." The architects punched additional windows into the remaining brick facade. "We decided to honor the old brick building," said Winn. "Any new insertion is done with steel and glass." To mitigate solar gain, the new windows are extruded about a foot on the east side of the building, and about two feet on the west. The clerestories and courtyard curtain wall are equipped with automated shades. Though the original steel frames around the clerestory windows would only accept 1/4-inch laminated safety glass, the new windows feature one-inch-thick high performance glass. Additional sustainability measures include a complete board insulation system over the roof. "We loved having brick on the interior, so what we couldn't do there in terms of insulation, we made up for on the roof," explained Winn. "We over-insulated it." A rooftop solar setup offsets about 60 percent of the office's energy consumption. In addition, the architects re-used original materials wherever possible. They built the interior stairs out of old joists, and the contractor saw-cut discarded concrete into pavers for the abutting alley. Even the brittle roof decking found a second life as board forms for the building's cast-in-place concrete elements. The Hughes Warehouse building has exceeded the architects' expectations in terms of bringing the office back together, said Winn. "It's done wonders for us from the standpoint of office culture. People seem to really love working here—it's not a place that's a drag to work in, it's very comfortable." He noted that in less than two years the firm has grown from just over 40 members to about 70, and recalled several recent events, including art shows and a courtyard holiday party, held in the renovated space. "I have to say that Overland's been elevated to a whole other level."
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President Obama will reportedly nominate San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development. If confirmed by the senate, Castro will succeed Shaun Donovan, a trained architect, who has been at the agency since 2009. Donovan is expected to head the Office of Management and Budget. Since the news about Castro broke, there has been very little discussion about what this appointment means for the future of HUD. Instead, the Chattering Class has been entirely focused on what it means for national politics. And that is not surprising given that Castro is a “rising star” in Democratic politics. He gave the keynote address at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, is seen as a possible vice presidential candidate in 2016, and has been referred to as the "next Obama" in countless columns. Many political observers believe this nomination is a way for President Obama to increase diversity in his cabinet, and for Castro to build a national profile. But back to the task at hand: What will Castro mean for the future of HUD? That is a hard question to answer because, again, this appointment is so wrapped up in politics. His background at the helm of a major Southwestern city brings its own distinct qualifications to the job. One possible glimpse into Castro’s legislative priorities is SA 2020, an initiative his administration launched in 2010 as a community-based approach to city planning. According to an SA 2020 progress report, by 2020, the city plans to add 5,000 new apartments downtown, reduce vehicle miles traveled per individual by 10 percent, and double attendance at cultural programs. As HUD Secretary, Castro will be tasked with setting somewhat similar goals, but on a much larger scale. Implementing any big plans, though, will be difficult considering the president has less than three years left in his term. One immediately pressing topic on his agenda will be Rebuild By Design, a design challenge led by the agency to create a more resilient Eastern seaboard. AN recently reported that the competition's winner would be announced in the coming weeks. A possible change of leadership at HUD is not expected to change that. An official involved with Rebuild, who is not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, told AN "everything is moving as planned with full dedication and speed."
Last Saturday, the San Antonio community inaugurated the Lake|Flato Architects–designed Urban Ecology Center (UEC). Sited on the West Side of Phil Hardberger Park, the 18,600-square-foot UEC will be home to the Alamo Area Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists. This latest showpiece in the city’s park system will serve as a functional ecological system, a meeting space, and an urban ecology learning facility. Parks Project Manager Sandy Jenkins explained that the center was built with the intention of informing future generations about environmental concerns and the preservation of ecological systems. Former mayor Phil Hardberger, who recognized the asset of parks in improving the general urban quality of life, originally prompted the construction of the park in 2010. Covering 311 acres on eiter side of the Wurzbach Parkway, it was built as a means to preserve San Antonio's environmental treasures and natural heritage. The UEC is a $6.3 million LEED green project and was funded by the largest municipal bond program in San Antonio history. It is equipped with water harvesting and reclamation systems, which minimize both operational costs and impacts on the environment. The center is constructed out of sustainable materials and irrigated by an extensive rainwater collection system and a bio-swale that collects run-off, stores it into a detention basin, and reuses it when needed. It is also armed with photovoltaic solar panels capable of powering three average houses. The 8:00 a.m. opening attracted more than 500 visitors, including architects, neighbors, park employees, and environmental activists. It featured guided hikes, a wide array of presentations by civic leaders, green building and recycling awareness, and hands-on wildlife activities. The center embodies San Antonio’s communal effort to preserve its natural landscape and shows how the city has developed a sense of environmental stewardship. A significant amount of work still needs to be done, as only 60 percent of the park's construction has been completed.