Frost Bank Tower Design Signals a 21st Century San Antonio

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The live oak tree allée outside the new Frost Bank Tower on Houston Street will be a shaded respite for customers of the ground floor retail and general public. Rendering by Pelli Clarke Pelli courtesy of Weston Urban.

Rendering by Pelli Clarke Pelli / Courtesy of Weston Urban

The live oak tree allée outside the proposed Frost Bank Tower on Houston Street will be a shaded respite for customers of the ground floor retail and general public.

The first renderings of the proposed 23-story Frost Bank Tower keep the developers’ promise to bring San Antonio’s skyline into the 21st century. Faced with the choice of complementing the city’s long complacent skyline or redefining it, designers went for a bold and original new day in San Antonio.

Excitement, energy, and movement all come to mind when describing a shimmering, mirrored glass octagon with winglike flares, a tower that seems poised to take flight. It’s a tower that trumpets the robust vitality of San Antonio’s pioneer Frost Bank and its secure place in the vanguard of thriving Texas enterprises.

Groundbreaking on the 400,000 sq. ft. tower should begin by year’s end and construction should be completed by late 2018 or early 2019, making it the dynamic capstone of what former Mayor Julián Castro declared the “decade of downtown.” Frost Bank’s employees will occupy about 250,000 sq. ft. of the tower, leaving 150,000 sq. ft. available for other tenants. Speculation has already begun regarding which San Antonio firms will relocate into the tower whose rising tower wings promise dramatic corner office views aplenty.

The new, proposed Frost Tower at night. Rendering by Pelli Clarke Pelli courtesy of Weston Urban.

Rendering by Pelli Clarke Pelli / Courtesy of Weston Urban

The proposed Frost Tower at night. Rendering by Pelli Clarke Pelli courtesy of Weston Urban.

Renderings of the building first appeared in Sunday’s Express-News and were released to the Rivard Report and other media for publication on Monday.

Weston Urban and its Dallas development partner KDC, clearly pleased with the work of their New Haven, Conn. architects who have designed award-winning towers around the world, have declared the new Frost Bank Tower a “trophy building” with Class AA office space and state-of-the-art design.

The design is all the more dramatic coming into a city lacking notable downtown architectural statements, where a new office tower has not been constructed since the opening of the Weston Centre in 1989. Yet as dramatic as the tower promises to be in a downtown largely defined by historic office buildings and post-HemisFair ’68 hotels, the most transformative elements of the site plan are closer to the ground and on the street level surrounding the tower.

While the glass octagon and its blades reach towards the South Texas sky to culminate in a crown-like top, pedestrians and commerce will billow out from shops and restaurants through shaded, park-like promenades and seating nooks nestled within rows of live oak trees. The building’s landscape design strengthens the city block’s connection to the adjacent San Pedro Creek, existing pocket park, Houston Street and streetscape beyond.

The street level feeling is more like a “glassy pavilion in a park” than the base of a 23-story office tower, Bill Butler, principal at Pelli Clarke Pelli (PCP), told the Rivard Report in a phone interview with other firm leaders.

That is, if the design is approved by the Historic Design and Review Commission (HDRC) on Wednesday, July 20. Design team representatives from all over the U.S. will be in town to present the plans to commissioners alongside the project’s local ownership.

HDRC doesn’t have a strong track record of falling for modern architecture. But this project isn’t replacing or modifying an existing historic structure like the projects that commissioners usually bristle at. The lot is essentially a parking lot and drive-thru bank.

Councilman Roberto Treviño has confidence that HDRC, largely made up of architects and design professionals, will see the tower as sophisticated, sculptural, and keeping with the character of the city while adding diversity to the skyline.

“Pelli Clarke Pelli (architects) are among the best at context,” said Treviño, who is an architect himself. “This skyline is diverse and what they did was craft a beautiful, iconic building without it being like everything else. … It’s going to be a very interesting conversation (at HDRC).”

Special care was given to “how the building meets the street,” said PCP Senior Principal Fred Clarke. The internationally renowned New Haven, Conn.-based architectural firm was hired by the tower’s co-developer Weston Urban less than one year ago. “The civic quality of big buildings,” how they can become a public amenity, is one of the firm’s specialities, Clarke said.

Dallas-based KDC is partnering with Weston Urban on the tower’s design, finance, and construction.

The new tower will replace Frost Bank’s motor bank, a city block bordered by West Travis Street to the north, North Flores to the east, West Houston to the south, and Camaron to the west. The bank had oak trees planted along the perimeter in the 70s, most of which will remain part of the landscape, Butler said. The tower’s main pedestrian entrance will be on the corner of Houston and Flores streets and the main vehicle entrance for the six-story parking garage will be located off of the busier Travis Street.

The Frost Motor Bank is the location of the proposed new Frost Bank Building with plans to preserve most of the live oak trees. Photo by Scott Ball.

Frost Bank’s motor bank is the site chosen for the proposed Frost Bank Tower. There are plans to preserve most of the live oak trees. Photo by Scott Ball.

“The block sits in a very critical point in the city,” said Butler, a native San Antonian.

Physically, it sits on a convergence of multi-million dollar downtown investments from both the public and private sector.

The tower’s front and side “yards” include the San Pedro Creek, slated for its own transformation that will begin this September; the small, square park in front of the current Frost Tower; nearby Zona Cultural arts and culture district; and the entirety of Houston Street that connects to the San Antonio River Walk and dozens of hotels, housing projects, shops, and cultural institutions along the way to Alamo Plaza – where yet another major renovation project is taking shape.

The tower is part of one of the largest public-private partnership deals in San Antonio’s history. The real estate swap and development agreement between the City of San Antonio, Weston Urban, and Frost Bank will also bring 265 housing units to the area and consolidate City departments into the current Frost tower. Click here to read more about the transaction. The tower was expected to cost about $142 million when the deal was proposed in 2014. Weston Urban representatives declined to say whether that estimate is still accurate.

Architecturally, the tower sits on another critical point, Clarke said.

“This building is occurring at a historic inflection point of the city’s form and architecture,” he said. “This is a moment to really project the city’s architectural heritage very rapidly into the 21st century.”

The new Frost Bank Tower features large, angled curtains of glass that stretch up 23 stories into the San Antonio skyline. Rendering by Pelli Clarke Pelli courtesy of Weston Urban.

Rendering by Pelli Clarke Pelli / Courtesy Weston Urban.

The proposed Frost Bank Tower features large, angled curtains of glass that stretch up 23 stories into the San Antonio skyline. Rendering by Pelli Clarke Pelli courtesy of Weston Urban.

The “first wave” of big buildings came to San Antonio in the 1920s, most notably with the Medical Arts Building in 1924 and the Tower Life building in 1929.

Both have “faceted prismatic shafts that get smaller as they rise to the skyline,” Butler said, which was used as inspiration for the new Frost Tower. “This tower, rather than a heavy masonry building with punched out windows will (have) hi-tech, high performance glass prism walls that rise to the sky and cut the skyline.”

The design is also reminiscent of the bank’s logo, but that was somewhat unintentional, Clarke said. “It’s designed to be seen from all vantage points – from all around, it turns, responds, and tapers into the sunlight.”

Over the past three decades, bland hotel construction has dominated San Antonio’s skyline, a reflection of downtown investment that focused on the visitor. Now, City and Bexar County incentive packages are targeted towards downtown housing and commercial development to bring locals back into the center city. The “decade of downtown,” initiated by former Mayor Julián Castro, has sparked dozens of new projects. It was Castro that announced the deal on behalf of the City with Weston Urban and Frost Bank two years ago. The Frost Bank Tower was the first unsolicited public-private partnership proposal since major redevelopment project guidelines were put in place by City Council in November 2012.

The Grand Hyatt, built in 2008, and the recently completed Henry B. Gonzalez Center expansion did not draw architectural praise. The last building to stir up a design conversation was the San Antonio Public Library‘s Central Library. The modern, “enchilada red” design by the late Mexican Architect Ricardo Legorreta, was controversial at the time of its construction in 1995.

“I’m not too thrilled with enchilada red buildings,” Helen Dutmar, a former member of the City Council told the New York Times in 1995. “It just overshadows everything. The Spanish culture is beautiful, but sometimes you can go overboard. These people came to San Antonio to escape the Mexican influence.”

How times have changed.

The exterior of the Central Library in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Scott Ball.

The exterior of the Central Library in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Scott Ball.

The design was unanimously approved by City Council and received praise from many architectural critics, and over the last 20 years, San Antonio has proven to be a city that embraces and encourages its Mexican influence and history.

For Treviño, the new tower’s design whole-heartedly rejects traditional, colonial European design and is “more related to what indigenous cultures would have looked at – one of the basic forms of nature not prescribed by the classic versions of architecture.”

He likened the design to a windmill.

“I see the blades and motion to it,” he said. “Instead of being so literal (like the Frost Tower in Austin) the building is dynamic – it’s got motion, great angles, and changes depending on where you’re standing.

“Will everyone see it that way? No,” he said, acknowledging the subjective nature of design. “Architecture is the ultimate public art.”

If this tower was built in the 80s, during the “second wave” of downtown towers in San Antonio, its landscaping plan might have consisted of a few potted plants at the main entrance and, if they wanted to get really wild, a water feature of some sort.

“This is taking the old paradigm of the office campus that has everything you ever wanted inside an air conditioned space and turning it out so that it’s really part of the city,” said Alamo Architects Founding Principal Irby Hightower, the local architectural consultant for the project.

This ethos is expected to inspire the “third wave” of downtown building development.

Today a developer would be hard pressed to find a world-class designer that ignores the outside world. Enter Seattle-based landscape architecture firm Gustafson Guthrie Nichol (GGN), hired to design the build and natural environment immediately outside of the new tower.

The landscape design softens the lines between casual and commercial uses of the sidewalks and promenade. “It embraces the landscape,” GGN Founding Principal Kathryn Gustafson said in a phone interview on Thursday. 

GGN is also the lead designer for Hemisfair’s Civic Park – yet another multi-million dollar project in downtown San Antonio. Hightower praised GGN’s work on previous and current work that is always “built on a deep understanding of the city and the landscape,” he said.

Rendering of Hemisfair's Civic Park zolaco. Courtesy rendering.

Gustafson Guthrie Nichol rendering of Hemisfair’s Civic Park zolaco.

“Landscape architecture is everything that doesn’t have a roof on it,” Gustafson said. “That’s a huge part of your life.”

And an even bigger part of San Antonian life, she added, something that she and her team learned through surveys and research done for Hemisfair Park.

“You’re a party city,” she said. “One of the more fun cities in the U.S. and all these traditions and heritage are about what you do (and have done) outside.”

Now it’s just a matter of taking the same pedestrian-friendly elements seen at the river level on the River Walk, Museum Reach, and Mission Reach, and applying that to San Antonio’s street level.

“Everybody knows the River Walk. Everybody will know San Pedro Creek,” she said. “Linking those two through Houston Street is really important.”

In a sense, it doesn’t really need a water feature – it has the San Pedro Creek. The tower’s design team has been actively collaborating with Mario Schjetnan, the landscape architect working on the creek’s design.

GGN is also slated to revamp the adjacent Frost-owned pocket park that Weston Urban is purchasing.

Ground level retail tenants have not yet been selected to fill the approximately 20,000 sq. ft. available, but the landscape is designed for shops and restaurants that both “invite the public in” and spill activation (i.e. people) out onto the promenade, Gustafson said.

There’s plenty of room on the ground floor along Houston Street for about eight smaller tenants, said Weston Urban Co-Founder Randy Smith. But it could be that just one or two actually move in. Whatever the amount, they will be businesses that are open to the public like a coffee shop, a restaurant, or some other retail store and encourage outside activation, Smith said.

“An office building lobby is a passive use … so we’ll put the most active uses we have along the creek (Camaron Street) and Houston Street and passive uses along Flores Street,” he said. They’ll also be keeping an eye on day and night activation times. “There are large swaths of the day where an office lobby is a very quiet place,” so the retail tenants will extend the building’s vitality into the evening hours.

Frost’s own retail and public-facing bank functions will also occupy the ground floor.

“All of us at Frost are looking forward to seeing the new tower on the skyline and being part of an energized downtown,” stated Frost Chairman and CEO Phil Green in an email. Frost Bank first established its downtown headquarters in 1868. “After seeing the Frost sunburst go up on new buildings in downtown Austin, Dallas, and Fort Worth, we’re glad to be the named tenant of the newest building in our hometown of San Antonio.”

As the anchor tenant and the seventh largest bank in Texas, Frost will occupy about 250,000 sq. ft. of the bottom floors of the tower, the remaining 150,000 sq. ft. and ground floor retail space are up for grabs.

The proposed Frost Bank Tower's octagonal floor plan.  Image courtesy of Weston Urban.

The proposed Frost Bank Tower’s octagonal floor plan. Image courtesy of Weston Urban.

Reata Real Estate will be handling retail tenants while international investment management firm JLL, which recently acquired local firm Travis Commercial Real Estate Services, will be looking for office space tenants.

JLL Senior Vice President Lisa Mittel and a few of her colleagues from Travis Commercial will be leading the leasing process. Mittel doesn’t expect any difficulty in cultivating interest in the tower. Her office has already received several calls from prospective tenant companies and real estate brokers.

“This is a highly coveted assignment,” Mittel told the Rivard Report in a phone interview on Friday. San Antonio has 26 million sq. ft. of office inventory and the new tower would be only the third to offer top-class facilities downtown. The other two are Bank of America Plaza, built in 1983 and recently renovated by new owners, and the Weston Center. Most office towers were built outside of the urban core, where land and construction costs are far lower than infill development can offer.

“This (tower) is going to be in a class in and of itself,” she said. “This is a trophy building,” unlike any in San Antonio, describing the tower in three words: “Sophisticated, elegant, creative.”

The commercial leasing market fluctuates, Mittel said, but in the first two quarters of 2016 alone, there were 150,000 sq. ft. of “new absorption,” or leased space.  Demand for Class A space has been on the rise for several years.

“It’s a very adaptable type of floor plan – both full-floor tenant and multi tenant floors,” she said. “We’re expecting to do a couple deals with multi-floor tenants.”

It’s too early to tell what leasing prices will look like, but it will likely be the most expensive in the city. Mittel expects the typical “FIRE” (financial, insurance, real estate) companies to express interest as well computer/IT, entrepreneurial, and oil and gas companies.

“A building like this, we think, will have very broad appeal across industries,” Smith said.

Floor to ceiling windows and floor plans will allow floor tenants to offer their employees and customers 360-degree views of the city. Elevator shafts, electrical panels, and bathrooms are all located in the center mass of the building and structural columns are hidden at building joints for unobstructed views to the outside world.

The glass – some of the most advanced building material in production – is slightly opaque and far more energy efficient than normal glass by allowing 70% less heat energy to enter the building, Butler said.

Mittel expects to find a natural blend of local, national, and international companies interested in the space. The anchor tenant, Frost Bank, will lend a large amount of stability and credibility to attract them.

“We’re not only targeting existing organizations that want to grow, (but) also targeting new companies toward this project,” she said. 

Mittel has worked in the San Antonio real estate market for 30 years. “(This tower is) unlike anything I’ve seen in my career. It’s a unique and special time in SA and this project is just a big piece of what’s going on” in the larger downtown market, she added.

More downtown residential, commercial projects to come

As part of the public-private partnership (P3), the City sold several buildings to Weston Urban to develop more than 250 residential units including condos in the Municipal Plaza Building, 114 W Commerce St; apartments at the old San Fernando gym, 319 W Travis St; and a parking lot at 403 N Flores St.

“We were always very aligned with the City of San Antonio’s (mantra that) downtown is indeed a mosaic, and San Antonians living downtown has always been the biggest (most lacking) piece of that mosaic,” Smith said.

Once Frost Bank employees move in to the new tower, the City will move 1,200 civilian employees that currently work in buildings sprinkled across the city into the old Frost Tower on Houston Street. Work on the residential projects will begin soon after the tower is complete.

“…We’re honored to have played a role in delivering (these) handsome headquarters,” stated Weston Urban Co-Founder Graham Weston. “The design is breathtaking, and this is the tower Frost deserves. It is a tribute to the fact that Frost Bank is part of the very fabric of Texas, the fabric of San Antonio.”

Weston, chairman and co-founder of Rackspace and Geekdom, also owns the 32-story Weston Centre, the nearby historic Milam and Savoy buildings, and other downtown properties. The tower is the likely centerpiece for a new era of development in the western portion of downtown.

And he’s not the only one buying up downtown real estate. Local developer GrayStreet Partners is working on a plan to convert the former Children’s museum on Houston Street into a mixed-use office and restaurant complex with the adjacent historic Kress building. The company owns at least seven other properties on East Houston Street and has property in Southtown and near the Pearl Brewery.

“We have a million more decisions between now and completion,” Smith said of the tower, which is still in the design development phase. “This design development stage will lead into construction drawings. While we know exactly what the building will look like … right now I have no idea what a doorknob on the 20th floor will look like.” 

Over the phone, PCP Founding Partner Cesar Pelli was bursting with pride and excitement over the tower’s design. He likened showing off the renderings to showing off photos of his own children.

“This will bring San Antonio into the 21st century,” Pelli said.

I asked the PCP team and other sources for this story during our conversations if they are calling the new tower anything besides “Frost Bank Tower.” Often buildings are assigned nicknames by developers, architects, and locals. The Express-News held a contest to name the color of the library as “enchilada red.”

The Frost tower in Austin has been called “nose hair clippers” and “the owl.” A building Pelli designed in Los Angeles is lovingly referred to as the “Blue Whale.”

Pelli Clarke Pelli designed the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, Calif. Locals have taken to calling it the "Blue Whale."  Image courtesy of Pelli Clarke Pelli.

Pelli Clarke Pelli designed the Pacific Design Center (1975) in West Hollywood, Calif. Locals have taken to calling it the “Blue Whale.” Image courtesy of Pelli Clarke Pelli.

So far, nothing has stuck for the glass tower, Clarke said, adding that a true nickname should come from San Antonians.

“People get nicknames usually because they’re liked by other people,” he said. “They come from some kind of endearment.”

“A good name will come naturally,” Pelli added.

Only time will tell. Some see a crown. Councilman Treviño sees a windmill. What do you see?


This story was originally published on Monday, July 11.

Top image: The live oak tree allée outside the proposed Frost Bank Tower on Houston Street will be a shaded respite for customers of the ground floor retail and general public. Rendering by Pelli Clarke Pelli courtesy of Weston Urban.

Related Stories:

City Green Lights Landmark Weston Urban/Frost Bank Deal

Weston Urban Acquires Historic Milam Building

Weston Urban Wins County Incentive Package, San Pedro Creek on Track

The San Pedro Creek Project: Getting it Right

Pelli Clarke Pelli to Design Weston Urban’s Frost Bank Tower

33 thoughts on “Frost Bank Tower Design Signals a 21st Century San Antonio

  1. Fortunately, the design is attractive. I had been worried because even though many people seem to like the Austin Frost Bank building, it is too stubby for the size of its massive crown and ends up looking awkward. This design is elegant. If the Historic Design and Review Commission doesn’t approve the plans, it will be a major blow to San Antonio’s Decade of Downtown and to its hopes to be anything other than a city that seems non-progressive. The committee just needs to realize that this plan will be a prime example in 50-75 years of modern early 21st Century architecture and that the Historic Design and Review Commission of that time will be trying to assure that its wonderful design features are not compromised by any proposed upgrades to the building or surrounding areas.

  2. Terrible, boring environmentally-poor design that doesn’t add any beauty at all to downtown San Antonio.
    We are a city with a wonderful World Heritage site, yet the design of our newest building is a poor copy of ugly buildings in other cities.
    Why? Why can’t we have something very special, very much a reflection of your city and its heritage?

  3. I love it! I am tired of our city, the second biggest in Texas, being overlooked. People talk….google it! They say things like,”Is this place really bigger than Dallas? Or, “Austin looks better.” There is also the popular, “Why does downtown San Antonio look so dull?” People think Austin and Dallas eclipse us. They love our River Walk, our skyline….not so much. We are bigger and offer many things those cities don’t. What’s so wrong with a progressive mindstate? This would be a piece of history as well. The first of it’s kind to enter downtown! Let’s put some color into our city. Down with the brown (in reference to the many shades of brown buildings in the urban core!) Fort Worth is a prime example of meshing the old with the new and making it successful (They are also getting a new Frost Tower!) Can we impress visitors and leave an image of our amazing skyline in their minds when they leave and not just a river? Let’s move onward, to the future of downtown SA!

  4. Why can’t we have something just a little taller? It’s only about 2 floors taller than the existing Frost Bank Bldg. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful design worthy of or great city, but make it something that really stands out design and height wise. Oh well, maybe some newer and grander buildings will be built in SA in the next couple of decades.

    • I also concur with the height disappointment. One solution could be to build the parking underneath the structure commercial floors which can elevate the buildings height without actually increasing the actual square footage.

      • To the naked eye it will just as tall as the Weston Center, Grand Hyatt, and Tower Life.

        If don’t like the height then you could always lobby more companies to relocate downtown so the demand for class A office space increases.

    • Yes this building is not what I would consider an iconic building. Lacks the height. Throughout the design it was supposed to stand out and up but apparently it is not. I think to be iconic it is the first building people would see when they look at the skyline and this building will not be seen.

  5. I knew it ! What was suppose to be a skyscraper is now a dumb down looking dwarf of a whatever it is . Horrible just horrible! Way to go HDRC!!

    • Two questions:

      1) Who said it was going to be a “skyscraper”? Everything I’ve read before the unveiling only said “tower,” which it is.
      2) What’s your beef with HDRC on this? From what I read above, they haven’t even looked at the designs much less passed judgment on it.

  6. I don’t see it as original. Maybe it is different for San Antonio, but not for other cities which have been doing glass towers for decades. I really think the designers should come up with something that integrates the new with the old. As it is, although a lovely building, it looks out of place and very not puro San Antonio.

  7. That building looks like it belongs in Houston or Dallas. I don’t love that look for San Antonio. Wrong “vibe” !

    • Because it isn’t tan or ugly like the rest of Downtown San Antonio. Sorry the vibe is too 21st Century to you, Susan.

    • Perhaps you were expecting a 23 story version of the Alamo? Why can’t San Antonio have a wide range of brick, glass, metal, stucco, heck maybe even wood? We’re a diverse city, can’t our architecture be too? That’s what will lead to a dynamic downtown.

  8. I love the design it is beautiful but a little more height will give it more prominence on the skyline. I’m excited about the tower, I remember sending an email to Frost bank back in 2005 and asking when they were going to build a new downtown HQ. The waits over and I look forward to seeing it rise as well as other developments that this project will spur in the west end of downtown.
    S.A. has a strong corporate base, a healthy list of F500 /1000 HQ’s and large private corportions based here, the city needs to keep working on attracting more firms to move to the city center. There is no reason downtown S.A. should have a weak office market and have a skyline that mostly consist of big hotels, hospitals, residential, and civic structures. Downtown S.A. probably has a billion sq. ft of everything else but only a handful of big class A office space. A smiley message to S.A. movers and shakers please build more beautiful modern skyscrapers to compliment the abundance of ornate historical architecture, architecture that sets S.A. apart from most other cities that either razed or never had the beautiful beige and brown stuff. S.A. has several billionaires and If I were a billionaire I’d turn the west end of downtown into a mini-mannhattan, but i’ll be realistic a few more towers will suffice.

  9. Astounding! This is certainly San Antonio’s next iconic structure, and will be turning heads all over the world. Consider the geometry, how the solid octagonal base subtly falls in on itself tapering into those eight prismatic shafts… this is some complex stuff. Much like I.M. Pei’s Fountain Place in downtown Dallas, constantly startling with its geometric acrobatics, simultaneously mirroring its surroundings and melting into the sky, the Frost Tower will likely become a delightful challenge to the viewer’s comprehension of what’s taking place before them. I’m so looking forward to this.

  10. I am so glad to see this! Like most here I also find our skyline to be lackluster. A taller building would certainly be welcomed, but for me it is not a prerequisite to have a city with an interesting and vibrant looking urban core. I think if San Antonio wants to do the low density skyline thing, that’s fine but we should definitely look at European examples of cities that manage to pull it off wonderfully. I’m thinking Copenhagen, Amsterdam and even Barcelona (which has both a high and low density skyline). The major problem that needs to be addressed is INFILL! Sooooo many empty buildings downtown that could or should be mid-rise. I think this would make the core look more full/complete.

    As far as high-rises go, it’s been said that we don’t have the business to justify commercial skyscrapers any taller than the few we have. So, I suggest that maybe residential high-rises should be our thing. There seems to be a market for it since people are clamoring to get into the new developments that are downtown/southtown.

    • * A taller building would certainly be welcomed, but for me it is not a prerequisite to have IN a city with an interesting and vibrant looking urban core.

  11. It’s disappointing that the developers and architects seem to be aiming only for LEED Silver with this new office tower building — basically ‘dumbing down’ LEED Platinum and Gold work that the architects Pelli Clarke Pelli have achieved and are aiming for with similar towers in other US and global cities.

    Research completed in New York indicates that LEED Silver and Certified office buildings actually under-perform (while LEED Gold office buildings outperform) other office buildings.

    Many US cities now require LEED Gold or equivalent as the minimum when constructing new buildings of this size and type due to their high performance.

    The architects Pelli Clarke Pelli are currently aiming for LEED Platinum in cities including Mumbai, Seville and Iowa City and have completed LEED Platinum work with tower buildings recently in cities including Beijing, Singapore, Bilbao, Las Vegas and New York — as well as with a low rise university building in Urbana-Champaign.

    Pelli Clarke Pelli are currently aiming for LEED Gold with planned tower buildings in cities including Dallas, Buenos Aires, Kuala Lumpur, Guangzhou and Wuhan and have achieved LEED Gold with tower buildings in cities including Cleveland, Los Angeles, DC, Mexico City, Milan, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Costa Mesa — and even Toledo, Ohio.

    So, why are they/we aiming so low in San Antonio with the new Frost Tower?


    Pelli Clarke Pelli – Sustainable Design (indicating a LEED Silver objective for Frost Bank, San Antonio)

    Scofield, 2013

    US Cities requiring or supporting LEED

    City of Berkeley – Green Building Requirements

    CBRE Green Building Adoption Index

    • Architects do not pursue or set the level of LEED Certification on buildings they design. The client is the one that makes the decision, not the architect. Architects advise their clients and make recommendations, but we certainly do not set the criteria, our clients do. In many cases if the project is pursuing a certification level it does not limit them to that goal. Often projects exceed point levels and achieve a higher certification level than anticipated. Another factor to consider is if they are pursuing LEED 2009 or the new, more stringent Version 4.

      • These are good questions for news coverage that has stated that we’re getting ’21st Century’ (Rivard Report) and ‘Cutting Edge’ (Express News) development with the proposed Frost Bank tower but that hasn’t really interrogated these claims – not even mentioning LEED or equivalent ratings with their reporting.

        This includes not looking at the architect’s projects and aims in other cities – most relevant to San Antonio likely Pelli Clarke Pelli’s objective of LEED Gold with McKinney & Olive in Dallas in 2016 (which broke ground mid 2014).

        Or asking if Pelli Clarke Pelli is planning for compliance with LEED 2009 or LEEDv4 with their San Antonio project (Until October 31, 2016, new projects may choose between the two sets of standards).

        Obviously, good designers can influence and guide their clients (and refuse some aims and projects). Cities also can set minimum standards for development — which in many US cities has been set as LEED Gold for this size and type of development as well as for any building with a municipal function. Even Scottsdale, AZ requires LEED Gold for new and renovated municipal buildings.

        It is doubtful that a project not required to achieve LEED Gold and aiming for LEED Silver will achieve LEED Gold (whichever set of standards are chosen) — including given the emphasis on energy, atmosphere, materials, and indoor quality with LEED scoring. We have to question claims of ‘high’ development with new projects aiming for such a low LEED rating — including when we can so easily point up the road to a very similar project with a higher LEED objective.

        We also have to ask why the City of San Antonio’s green building policy is apparently below requirements or aims for new development in US cities ranging from Cleveland to Kansas City to Scottsdale to Dallas. We can settle on LEED Silver or set higher standards for new San Antonio development (as exemplified by LEED Gold projects in San Antonio like Pearl

  12. San Antonio Sky line is ugly, beige and bland. its embarrassing and so I hope this city gets it together or its another reason to leave.

  13. In the end, what really matters is how this will transform the western side of downtown. When coupled with the construction of the new federal courthouse and the San Pedro Creek project, that area of the city will come back to life. Add in the completion of the Hemisfair project, the newly-completed convention center and the pending Alamo upgrades, and San Antonio will be on its way to joining the 21st century. Given the choice, I would rather have a downtown that is full of green space than large towers.

  14. Frost promised an “iconic” building, Graham Weston promised it would be the tallest. Then we get a lazy short blue spinning blob that looks like a spec building in The Woodlands. Pelli gave us their D team and we got a boring bland design. At 23 stories it’s way to short to have any impact on even our low skyline. I feel conned frankly. Huge disappointment

  15. Never commented upon is the real reason for so few tall office towers in San Antonio. We lack high speed rail transit. I grew up in Philadelphia and commuted from the suburbs to downtown for many years with only a couple of late days due to traffic delays.

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