More than a dozen University of Texas at San Antonio architecture students worked countless hours on the design, engineering, fabrication, assembly, and installation of Morf, a public art piece that clings to the facade of the City-owned parking garage on Houston Street.
The abstract installation was inspired by a map of San Antonio on which the students choose key cultural and historic landmarks to emphasize including San Fernando Cathedral, the Spanish colonial missions, Alamodome, and more, said UTSA College of Architecture, Construction and Planning senior Najett Beltaifa during an official unveiling of the class’ work on Friday. These points defined the general shape of the piece, but then the students chose to add a more abstract layer.
“At the beginning of the semester we knew the design was going to be a challenge in constructing it. When we chooses to make it out of aluminum we started to work with the material in the sense of bending, drilling, cutting, maneuvering the metal,” said UTSA senior Isaias Coronado. The student team worked to make sure all the components would be light enough to be installed without damaging the wall.
“It was a great opportunity to experience real construction scenarios from design to (build),” Coronado said. “We were able to plan ahead sequentially every step.”
The bright red and turquoise colors were chosen to represent Hispanic heritage, said UTSA senior Italia Aguilera. “Plus they’re old Spurs colors.”
The metallic, “futuristic” pyramids also allow the piece to speak to San Antonio’s evolution, she said. “We’re expanding not just physically, but also culturally. … San Antonio is moving forward but we’re keeping true to our roots.”
Though they are architecture students, Beltaifa said she doesn’t separate architecture from art. “For some of us we don’t even see the distinction between the two.”
“It’s important to look to other creative outlets to express ourselves and to also influence our own (work in) architecture,” said UTSA senior Megan Goldstein. “You can’t be single minded about things.”
The process behind and the installation of Morf itself could not have happened single-mindedly. UTSA, Centro San Antonio, the Center City Development and Operations Department (CCDO), and the San Antonio chapter of the American Institute of Architects dedicated time and resources to make the students’ vision a reality.
This is the second public art display on the Houston Street Garage as part of the “Architecture that Engages” design competition. Morf replaced Biotechnic designed by San Antonio College architecture students.
Because the installations are temporary and on City-owned property, art rotation can happen more frequently with a less formal process, said CCDO Interim Director John Jacks. Morf will stay on Houston Street for about six months and the City is brainstorming more ways of filling vacant spaces through more collaborations with artists and educational institutions to “activate what would otherwise be a blank wall.”
The “Architecture that Engages” program exemplifies how “architecture is art,” Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) said. “And shows the city the tremendous local talent we’re creating here.”
Working on this project has exposed the students to the “real world” of architecture, said UTSA Architecture and Interior Design Lecturer Armando Araiza. The students will use the experience to inform their career paths.
“We’re so used to presenting our projects to interviewers and judges,” Beltaifa said, “but when it’s real life here and people are actually touching it, it’s different.”
Top image: A public art installation, “Morf” was designed, assembled, and installed by students studying architecture at UTSA. Photo by Scott Ball.