Alamo Plan is a Work in Progress

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This rendering shows the Alamo Plaza Master Plan's vision for the space (looking northwest).

Courtesy / Texas General Land Office

This rendering shows the Alamo Plaza Master Plan's vision for the space (looking northwest), which includes glass walls surrounding the plaza.

Design is a process, not an end product.

As architects, we embrace the design process as both a challenge and a means for reward, as something that ultimately sets the tone of the buildings, plazas, landscapes, and interiors that we create for the public. From planning to realization, the process of design is informed by several stakeholders. Programs are set, design guidelines are established, schedules and budgets are reviewed, constructability and vision are debated, input is weighed, and plans change – several times over.

The proposed Alamo Master Plan is no exception to the rigors of public input that a project of such significance should rightfully have to undergo. After all, this sacred and civic landmark is not only in the heart of our city, it is the heart of our city. But it is also important to remember that the recently released master plan is not exclusive from a process that has been in the works for more than four years, now.

The Vision and Guiding Principles that were developed by the Alamo Plaza Advisory Committee (now the Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee) in 2014 have been the framework by which the design team has been charged with upholding throughout the development of the master plan.

The major guiding principles include words such as “preserve,” “interpret,” “balance,” “embrace,” and “enhance.” The document describes both the experiential and physical experience, the balance of literal and interpretive aspects of the Alamo. Not that these tenets are to be mutually exclusive, but it is asking the design team to find an appropriate equilibrium, a place where the Alamo can engage visitors and residents in a deeply personal and true way.

The problem with equilibrium is that it can never fully appeal to everyone. That has become increasingly evident in the recent reactions to the design team’s master plan. There are parts of the design that are applauded and others that are highly contested. It is a plan that is earnestly seeking balance between the literal and interpretive, just as the Vision and Guiding Principles intended. It is in process, and therefore an easy target for reaction.

While the San Antonio chapter of the American Institute of Architects has a history of not taking editorial position on the work of its members, it is relied upon as a resource for issues that relate to our city and its development. We are a professional organization that aims to unite the community of architects to advance architecture as a professional craft and to shape a more livable and sustainable future.

Are there aspects of the master plan that still need addressing? Of course. Are we hopeful that these discussions occur? Absolutely. But we respectfully remind that master plans – and this one is no exception – are ever-evolving documents. The most prudent advice our organization can give is to respect the process. Dialogue and input are as expected as they are critical in the process. The forums are set for these discussions, with the next public meeting occurring on Tuesday, May 2 at 6 p.m. in Room 301 of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center.

As for the challenges specific to the development of the Alamo Master Plan, here are a few we find notable: First, tourists often say “we drove by the Alamo.” Unbeknownst to them, they were actually driving on the Alamo. The mission and battlefield once included a vast amount of downtown San Antonio. To expect a literal demarcation of those bounds would be geographically and economically infeasible, while ignoring them completely would be inappropriate. The design team is trying to balance program requirements as presented to them with their interpretation of how to create a safe, sacred, and civic urban environment.

Additionally, the Alamo is a case study in the complexity of interpreting landmarks. The grounds were not only the site of one of America’s most famous battles, they acted as a mission for nearly a century prior. And since, they have been the center of local and state cultural and civic celebration. This warrants a particular delicacy to the treatment of the site with its rich, diverse emotional history and future plans. What should be solemn? What should be celebrated?

The dialogue and heartfelt reactions to the Alamo Master Plan are healthy, warranted and important parts of the process, the continuum of activities that comprise a master plan. This process is one that will be ongoing throughout the coming months. Experts have been chosen, programs have been issued, and the master plan is evolving based on guiding principles that were set years ago, as well as by public input that is occurring today.

In the coming days, we ask that while you Remember the Alamo, you also remember the process by which design occurs.

12 thoughts on “Alamo Plan is a Work in Progress

  1. It doesn’t sound as if Mr. Reed is listening. He’s just defending. Nothing can be a work-in-progress if, instead of listening, leaders just take a stand.

  2. Reed’s opinion: CLASSIC attitude of most architects: “SEVERAL” of us will do it FOR you (you’re too dumb to know what is best). We do it for CHALLENGE and for REWARD. EXACTLY what everyone is so angry about.
    The Control Group has failed to engage the REAL USERS and the REAL LOVERS of the Alamo, instead injecting their self-righteous imposition on the sacredness of the Alamo and the people who BUILT IT, USED IT, DIED AT IT, and WATCH OVER it every day…..not just involved when presented a challenge or a reward.
    Classic DEVELOPERS & MONEY-MAKERS attitude.

    !!!SAVE THE ALAMO!!!

    Myfe Moore
    603 River Road
    San Antonio Tx 78212
    210-213-8400

  3. LOOK AGAIN AT THE PICTURE OF THE DESIIGN ABOVE:

    PLEASE NOTICE THE ALAMO ITSELF ISNT EVEN IN THE PICTURE.

    !!!EXACTLY!!!!

  4. Adam, there’s nothing more frustrating than watching the leader of an organization do the Texas Two Step while some of the city’s finest architects take a stand. I am a retired “design professional” and you can’t tell me we are in the schematic design with the degree of detail in this presentation, and the defensiveness of the team. Where are the sketches, the alternatives, the “we’ve looked at several solutions” that one would have expected at this phase?

    I’m not attending the public meetings, they are a waste of time. The consultants have their minds made up and it is time to speak with the ultimate decision makers – the state legislature and our Governor. My petition has 449 signatures and most have commented. https://www.change.org/p/greg-abbott-remember-the-alamo-properly I’m giving copies to the SA City Council but I don’t live in there anymore although I was born and raised there. I live, prophetically, in Alamo Heights. I lived here when I filed the complaint to the Attorney General about the mismanagement of the Alamo by the custodians and when the DRT permanently terminated me, and still wear a flak jacket upon occasion when around unidentified females.

    I took a pretty lonely stand then Adam. It’s refreshing to see so many of us standing together now. The Rivard Report appears to be the only media in town with enough cannon balls to take a stand.

  5. I don’t see an evolving plan. I see members of the committee and design team holding strong to this plan. It’s a done deal. D1 rep. Roberto Trevino has made it clear that this public space will be shut down, closed off, and handed over to the powers in Austin.

    Lets see what happens at the 3rd meeting. This will be their chance to prove that they are listening to the people. If they present a new plan with our concerns in mind then we will know we can trust them to keep the people of San Antonio in mind with this redesign. If they continue to hold strong to their plan, if the glass walls are still part of this plan. Then we know the entire plan must be rejected and the entire team assembled to develop this plan must be replaced.

  6. 429 signatures on the petition this morning, 470 signatures at 5:20 pm. HUZZAH!!
    Thank you everyone. It isn’t 470K, but the comments are from many voices in all walks of life. (None doing the two-step)

  7. When after 2 Years of meetings and design work, your recommendation desecrates a Native American Cemetery / Campo Santo Area at a National Historic / World Heritage Site, you deserve everything you get.

  8. Now here’s the thing. If the State of Texas wanted to make proper use of the property they currently own (and to which they are increasingly prone to capriciously control access) why would they not choose to rebuild there, on property that has been modified substantially since 1836, is where they allege the majority of the fighting and dying took place, and is not currently a public space for use by the people of San Antonio, and their state, national, and international guests?
    By enveloping Alamo Plaza, purchasing property around the plaza, and aggressively pursuing commercial control of all access and merchandising, the State of Texas is not looking to become rich; it seeks to control the use of the Alamo as an icon. The three-way commission (which is two-thirds controlled by one elected state politician) presents a plan to develop the Alamo as a contemporary historic attraction, but the ultimate impact of the plan is to render space that was formerly a public space, a city plaza, into a private staging ground from which to advance views in political favor, suppress those otherwise, and do it all in the guise of history.
    The State of Texas has at it’s disposal the University of Texas, a cadre of parks management personnel, and a host of other resources at the ready to provide for the management of the Alamo, the former Mission San Antonio de Valero, as an historic asset of the people of Texas (not to mention the nation and the world). Instead, they create a commission, and endowment, a private non-profit, hire at-will employees, pursue trademark and merchandising rights, and use public and private funds to create an unaccountable political asset, at the expense of existing historical assets, to the expense of the people in their right to have public spaces, and the disparagement of a cadre of learned professionals in their fields. They may well do it, but shame on them.

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