Courtesy / AIA San Antonio
Beaty Palmer Architects was announced as the winner of the City Hall for All design competition Wednesday, claiming a $20,000 prize for its design concept to provide better accessibility to the 125-year-old building for the mobility impaired.
“We’re humbled. We’re honored that the judges picked our submission out of so many wonderfully creative submissions,” said Terry Palmer, principal of Beaty Palmer Architects, following the unveiling of his team’s winning rendering in front of City Hall.
Beaty Palmer’s design calls for two symmetrical ramps to be added to reach the doors of City Hall’s east entrance, recognized as the main entrance, so that peoples who use wheelchairs, walkers, or canes could access the building. A side entrance currently provides ramp access into City Hall, but it leads to the basement, so visitors and workers must take the elevator to the lobby.
The competition drew 22 design ideas that were judged by a panel of four jurors. Renderings were submitted anonymously and without organization logos or firm names so that the decision would be made based on the designs’ merits.
The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation, which supports organizations for the special-needs community, financed the contest, and its founder, Gordon Hartman, revealed the design at City Hall along with Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) and American Institute of Architects San Antonio President Adam Reed.
“We are going to build it,” Hartman said of the winning design. “Because I know there’s a City Council that is passionate.”
Treviño gave credit to the late Judy Babbitt, who used a wheelchair and managed the city’s disability access office, for instilling the idea that accessibility to the city’s front steps is not merely an accommodation, but a civil right.
“Access to the seat of city government is amongst the greatest rights that can be given to our community,” Treviño said. “She identified the front steps as the first place where the city could improve ADA accessibility, and I agree.”
There was no indication when, or if, construction on the ramps would be approved. Treviño told the Rivard Report that it would be considered alongside the City’s upcoming move into the 22-story Frost Bank Tower.
“We know that this fall we’re going to be examining the rehabilitation and remodel of City Hall, because we’re doing a transition to the Frost Tower,” Treviño said. “That’s already in play.”
Building the two ramps could assist city workers in the coming move, said Todd Hargroder, a special-needs community representative on the judging panel who pointed out the number of heavy boxes and file cabinets that must have been carried up City Hall’s steps over the years.
“This design here will certainly fulfill the need of the accessibility community and people in wheelchairs,” Hargroder said. “But it will also add better access to the building itself for the people.”
He fondly remembers many historical announcements made from the steps and gave his approval for the design in part because of the way that it maintained the integrity of the building’s entrance.
“Just the clean beautiful approach – it maintained the beauty of the building,” Hargroder said. “There’s been so many historical moments that I’ve seen growing up. This design maintains that historical value as well as adds the accessibility needs.”
Reed noted that good design helps people, promotes societal values, and strives to make each day and life better.
“I think what’s so successful about this winning entry is a very simple, straightforward integration of the context, not only of this historic building, but also of the trees, the sight, the respect for this municipal place,” he said.
Palmer recognized that implementing the design and building the ramps will be a big project for the group if approved. But for him, such opportunities are the reason he became an architect.