Alamo Plaza in front of Guinness World Records Museum is crowded during spring break.
The Texas General Land Office has hired an architectural firm to design the Alamo Museum at Alamo Plaza. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Alamo officials have hired Boston-based Machado and Silvetti Associates to design the Alamo Museum and visitor center, part of the multimillion-dollar redevelopment of Alamo Plaza.

The $1.6 million contract between the Texas General Land Office (GLO) and the firm, which has the Denver Art Museum’s welcome center in its extensive portfolio, was executed on May 20.

“We really feel like we’ve found a unique team to … make this a world class experience for the public,” Alamo CEO Douglass McDonald said.

The Alamo Museum will be located where three historic buildings are currently located. Whether those buildings will be renovated, demolished, or partially demolished remains to be seen and is a point of controversy in the redevelopment.

A report on the buildings’ historical and structural assets will likely be released in June or July, McDonald said, and will be used to inform the final design of the museum. He expects a design to emerge by the end of 2019. Those renderings will be used to find private and philanthropic funding for the estimated $350-$400 million Alamo Plaza overhaul.

“We are thrilled to have been selected to preserve and enhance the extraordinary legacy of the Alamo,” Jorge Silvetti, principal of Machado Silvetti, stated in an email. “For the past 40 years, Machado Silvetti has been merging innovative and contemporary architecture with existing significant structures and historical sites. … We share this team’s commitment to what is one of the most important museum projects in the United States at this time.”

Machado Silvetti also designed the Kennedy Center for Theatre and Studio Arts, the New York University Global Center, and Qasr al Muwaiji Research and Exhibition Centre.

The GLO has also hired Dallas-based HKS Architects as the project’s architect of record, which will manage the project as well as oversee construction documents and building permits. Hiring an architect of record is common for large projects that partner with out-of-state firms. That contract is for nearly $795,000. HKS is the third-largest architecture firm in the U.S.

“With over 80 years of practice in Texas, HKS is honored to participate in this historic opportunity, along with a collaborative project team of design experts led by the talented architects of Machado Silvetti, to elevate the Alamo experience into a 21st century, contemporary museum and visitor’s center worth of this significant cultural landmark,” Craig Kolstad, senior vice president and principal of HKS, said in a news release.

The firms were selected out of more than 30 local, national, and international firms that applied for the job by the Alamo Management Committee, which is comprised of City of San Antonio, GLO, and Alamo Endowment representatives. The search was launched in August 2018.

“It was an amazing process to go through, to have 35 firms from all over the world who want to be part of this project,” McDonald said.

The architects will work off of both the Alamo Master Plan and Alamo Interpretive Plan that were approved by City Council last year and informed by years of work by citizen and stakeholder groups.

A critical skill that these firms demonstrated – in addition to understanding the importance of the Alamo to Texas’ history – is the ability to not overdesign or overpower surrounding build environments, McDonald said. “We want to make sure that whatever we put up [across the street], we do not diminish the Alamo.”

“We looked at firms that don’t need to put a branded imprint [of themselves] on top of a civic place that’s in a very historic space,” he said. In other words: the Alamo should be the centerpiece of the plaza, not the museum.

As the design process continues, the Citizens Advisory Committee and Management Committee will be kept in the loop, McDonald said.

Several groups take issue with various elements of the plan, such as relocating the Alamo Cenotaph, closing surrounding streets to vehicular (and in some cases bicycle and pedestrian) access, and enclosing the plaza with a barrier to create specific access points.

The San Antonio Conservation Society and other historic preservationists formed the Coalition for the Woolworth Building to save one of the three historic buildings slated to be part of the Alamo Museum. That group hired Alamo Architects, which did not apply for the official Alamo Museum process, to draw up renderings of what it thought would be a suitable “compromise.” It would feature a pedestrian thoroughfare along South Alamo Street and feature the history of the Woolworth building, which was home to one of the first lunch counters in Texas to integrate during the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

In a city where black history landmarks are hard to come by, members of the coalition said, the Alamo Museum is an opportunity to change that.

But the Alamo Museum should focus on the Alamo and history that took place on the site of the Spanish-colonial mission, Alamo officials argued, and the history of civil rights in San Antonio can be celebrated elsewhere.

Conservation Society has been opposed to the Alamo Plan at every step, even though it received overwhelming approval from the Alamo committees, Historic and Design Review Commission, Planning Commission, and City Council, McDonald said.

“This is a publicity stunt, not a real design,” he said of the coalition’s renderings.

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@rivardreport.com