Once the International River Barge Design Competition is complete in April, the public-private team from the City of San Antonio and the American Institute of Architect’s local chapter (AIA San Antonio) will turn their attention to another city design challenge: City Hall’s front entrance.
The 12 steps leading to City Hall’s front doors are a popular gathering spot for protests and announcements – they have become a kind of symbol of local democracy and public discourse. But to someone in a wheelchair, those steps are barriers.
City Hall, like all public buildings, is technically compliant with the American with Disabilities Act of 1990. People that require a wheelchair or have other mobility limitations must use a narrow side entrance ramp that leads them to a back door, connecting to an elevator in the basement. Once at the door, people are buzzed in after pressing a button that alerts security personnel in the main lobby.
“We don’t want to just be technically correct,” Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) told the Rivard Report on Friday. “If we’re at City Hall creating regulations and ordinances that advocate for everybody, then shouldn’t everybody have access to our front door?
“It’s inexcusable to say, ‘you have to go to the basement,'” Treviño said. “Exchange that with the (signs that once told) Mexicans and Black people to go around back. You can see that’s crazy, that’s not the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
City Hall, an Italianate Renaissance Revival style building completed in 1889, is a designated historic building. According to the Library of Congress, the fourth floor was added in 1927, when the clock tower, corner spires, and other design embellishments were removed.
The design challenge “offers an opportunity to partner with historians, architects, and accessibility staff,” said AIA San Antonio President Christine Vina. “This (project) would go through the Historic and Design Review process.”
The competition will likely be smaller than that for the River Barge, finalist designs of which will be revealed during an open house at AIA San Antonio Center for Architecture Gallery on April 1, Treviño said, but will set a better example for how ADA design is carried out.
“We’re the City,” he said. “What better place to demonstrate that?”
Top image: San Antonio City Hall’s front entrance. Photo by Iris Dimmick.