April 23


A Brutal Redesign: future potential for HemisFair's endangered pavilions

George Torres' proposal for the John H. Wood Jr. courthouse: an outdoor cinemaOn April 13, PdA co-hosted a public design charrette with the AIA's Emerging Professionals Committee. Local architects and planners spent the day at the AIA's Center for Architecture at the Pearl imagining radical new futures for the brutalist-era buildings in HemisFair, the site of the 1968 World's Fair. Situated in the heart of San Antonio, the former fairground is in the process of a major redevelopment that will restore residences and street life to the former neighborhood. While the historic buildings that an earlier generation of preservationists sought to save from "urban renewal" are safe this time around, early proposals for the makeover suggested demolishing former fair pavilions that currently house the UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures and the John H. Wood federal courthouse (as well as the federal building located next to the courthouse, which was not part of the fair).

Since then, the San Antonio Conservation Society has renewed its efforts to obtain historic designation for the buildings, and Andres Andujar, CEO of the HemisFair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation, has said his organization will respect that process. But that leaves the question of how to adapt these large, imposing structures to a new life in an age that favors accessibility over impact.

Andujar participated in the charrette process with a detailed presentation on HPARC's progress, and the Conservation Society supported the effort by donating the use of the former Alaskan Palace at 102 Navarro for a two-week exhibition of the results. District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal attended a reception for the participants April 16, where he said that what he thought would be a nice exercise for local talent had actually opened up the discussion of these buildings' potential – just what the project's co-sponsors had in mind.

Erica Gagne's team tackled several aspects of the site, including the federal administration buildingThe five-person Show Some Green team opened up the massive structures to sunlight and airErica Goranson and Brantly Hightower added a network of skywalks, and proposed turning the ITC into the Institute of Texan RecreationThe HemisFairway team proposed using portals, elevation, and walkways to change the perception and impact of the buildings on their surroundingsArchitect Brantley Hightower blogged about the experience and his proposal on the Rivard Report, and RR writer Bekah McNeel covered the results and the reception here.

You can download PDFs of the proposals here:

The HemisFair Pavilion - Slab Cinema, by George Torres III

The HemisFair Pavilion - Concert, by George Torres III

Show Some Green, by Rivera, Mulry, Floyd, Mendoza, and Ramirez

A Cultural Connection, by Gagne, Gonzalez, and Aaron

HemisFAIRWAY, by Martinez, Alonso, Cantu, and Sepulveda

The San Antonio Skywalk, by Goranson and Hightower

ITC Concept, by Emil Moncivais: image and narrative

Out of the shadows, into the neighborhood association

While I was interviewing Everett Ives for a recent piece on Beacon Hill Linear Park, the conversation took a detour into the neighborhood’s undocumented residents. Ives illustrates the problem with an anecdote: His neighbors chased a man down the street who had stolen a bicycle from their house. They caught him and recovered the bicycle but refused to press charges. Ives strongly suspects their leniency came from a fear of having their own legal status questioned. These neighbors may even have been victimized precisely because the perpetrator knew they would be unlikely to press charges.

There is some evidence that recent immigrants often make better neighbors than natural-born citizens. The LA Times recently reported data showing that foreclosures among undocumented immigrants are about a third that of citizens. The border cities of El Paso and San Diego, with very high numbers of immigrants, consistently show the lowest crime rates in the country.

Although undocumented immigrants may be less likely to cause trouble than the general population, anecdotal evidence shows that in many cases they are afraid to reach out for help from the legal system — and even from the neighborhood association. Tom Heger, pastor at Beacon Hill Presbyterian Church, recalls a local news story about immigrants. The reporter contacted immigration attorneys, who approached their undocumented clients for an on-camera interview. None of them agreed. These are voices that cannot be heard through official channels. They are largely invisible, except when characterized by their political opponents or champions.


Just because you're weird doesn't mean you have a sense of humor

Artist Gary Sweeney explains "The Battle of the San Antonio River," a proposed public-art project that's been rejected three times, twice in SA and once in Austin. "It's impossible to describe how much [Austin] hated the idea," Sweeney wrote on the wall text for the piece, which is featured in the 40-year career retrospective currently on view at the Blue Star Contemporary Art Center.

The Battle of the San Antonio River from Elaine Wolff on Vimeo.

Works: The Grotto

San Antonio-based artist Chris Sauter, whose work is part of the Mission Branch Library, discusses the grotto installation Carlos Cortes created for the river's Museum Reach.


After Oscar, a meditation on love and revenge

Confession: I love revenge movies. Make them gory, make them violent, make them brutal. I respond to them at a basic emotional level. I think it's because revenge stories function in a parred down, heightened moral universe: a wrong has been committed, and it must be punished. It satisfies a basic desire for justice in the simplest form possible. We live in a world, after all, where justice isn't as straightforward as punishing the right bad guy and we're not often rewarded for being bloodthirsty.

Revenge stories are also effective as metaphors, letting us get back at big, historical enemies and ideas. So you can imagine my excitement for this past Christmas, when Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained came out. It seemed like the revenge film par excellence, tackling a controversial historical enemy, letting the oppressed rise up to take out their oppressor in the most flashy and cathartic way possible. Tarantino, after all, directed the Kill Bill movies, my personal favorite revenge stories, a pastiche of every old-school kung fu movie where the protagonist has to get revenge on the enemy clan.

And Django was a great film, and a lot of interesting things have been written about it (I'd cite something here, but, really, just google it). It attempts to be both a revenge romp about killing slave owners and a thoughtful commentary on slavery, and ends up succeeding at each about 75 percent of the time.

But these are just scaffolding. Despite first appearances, I don't think Django Unchained is a revenge epic. It's a love story. It took me a little while to figure out, but Django wasn’t the year's big revenge movie. That honor goes to Zero Dark Thirty.


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