23 thoughts on “Frost Tower Gets Preliminary Approval, Pending ‘Nitpicky’ Changes

  1. To quote exactly what I said:
    “Glass towers are energy hogs. Glass – even the newer type described by the architects – is a notoriously poor insulator. Although the architects state that their glass will be 75% better than plain glass, that’s almost meaningless because plain glass has approximately the insulation value of a piece of cardboard. The U.S. Green Building Council (the LEED-certification group) says that structures with curtain-wall façades offer less climate protection than did medieval buildings.
    Glass is often favored by developers because it’s less expensive to build than masonry, saving them money on construction costs. Energy efficiency codes often allow trade-offs in order for a new building to meet the code requirements. For example, glass can be used for the exterior as long as energy-efficient mechanical systems are installed. This is a sleight of hand – because these mechanical systems may work optimally the first year, but over the years, they lose efficiency. As they lose efficiency, the building becomes an energy-sapper and saddles future tenants and owners with massive energy expenditures. Here in Texas, in the era of ever-hotter summers, architects should be taking more responsibility to design sustainable buildings.”

    • Carol, so what? We have a lot of other options as well

      Build it in an underground bunker to take advantage of the natural soil temperature

      Forgo air conditioning, after all who wouldn’t give up a little comfort to save the world

      Use pen and paper so we can eliminate those pesky polluting computers

    • Carol’s argument is thin at best. When you look at a building’s efficiency there are more factors than just the single pane of glass. There are many more inefficient punched window buildings to counter an argument against all glass structures. You have to look at the whole system, not just a component. Modern high-rise buildings use an insulated glass system that drastically cuts down on heat gain. Additionally sun shading devices such as overhangs, louvers, awnings or in a building like this one roller shades supplement that as a second barrier to reduce heat gain. Yes massing may be more efficient, but in the LEED rating system access to daylight and views are just as important to the health and well being of occupants.

      It sounds like Carol Googled the issue and has read an article about Manhattan’s Bank of America Building, a LEED Platinum structure that has been called out as “produce{ing} more greenhouse gases and us[ing] more energy per square foot than any comparably sized office building in Manhattan.” While that may be the case it is only half the story. When the building was certified it was for the base building, which even the author of that article concluded “after a closer look was impressed with its green features.” The issue with speculative office buildings is that you never know who your tenants will be. In the case of the Bank of America Building they did not anticipate that many of their tenants would require more energy than a typical office environment. Nearly a third of the building has trading floors with greater plug loads (computers, equipment, etc.), larger server rooms and add to that the additional mechanical units to provide 24/7 cooling for those rooms you will get a far less efficient energy system compared to a traditional office space.

      To counter some of that energy use, in California’s electrical code & LEED Version 4 there have been updates to provide 50% “controlled” outlets that are connected to room occupancy sensors. These outlets intended to reduce plug load demand on buildings. For example non-critical electrical devices such as monitors, coffee machines, microwaves, desk lamps, etc. will be plugged into these outlets and when there is no one in the room, as with the lights power is cut to those outlets reducing residual power consumption.

      I would hope that this structure would be certified under the more stringent LEED v4, but that information has not been released. It also remains to be seen if the building will require its tenants to also get LEED certification as well. In all honesty I am not sure you can requite a tenant do that.

  2. Sorry Camille, wrong Michael, it was Michael Connor who suggested the building might be taller if the owner could stretch their budget to achieve greater height. While I agree with the statement, credit is do to Mr. Connor.

    Michael Guarino

    • You do realize that asking them to “stretch their budget” to make it taller is incredibly simplistic of you, right? They haven’t been working on this for a year or anything… I’m sure they NEVER thought to make it taller, and your “expert” advice and counsel has completely changed their view of the world… Going to the HDRC is like asking a second grader for advice on your thesis. They think what they’re saying is important, but it’s just stupid and illogical. Focus on nitpicking the ugly brown hotels you just approved and let the citizens have something nice FOR ONCE.

      • Wow. You do realize that the OVERWHELMING nature of comments from the HDRC were complimentary, and that the people making said comments are respected architects, right?

        I have attended multiple HDRC meetings (both to present projects and comment on projects), and while I have not always agreed with the result, I do still believe they are trying to move the city toward better design. I have seen them try to push the ugly beige hotels as far as they are allowed, but they still have limits to what they can accomplish. The respectable architects and (local)developers will listen and improve their design. Unfortunately, most of the hotel developers will only do the minimum.

  3. The HDRC is the most frustratingly contradictory organization in ALL of San Antonio. It pisses me off. They allow 10 different urban apartment complexes to be built with ZERO “street interaction” whatsoever, but they call out the only true world class design we’ve ever had in San Antonio on their street level interaction?! Especially when they actually have retail on the first level. That makes NO sense. Where was this nitpicking when that hotel beside Maverick went up? Or the ugly new hotel they just approved at Solo Serve?! Their street interaction is nonexistent.

    Adding AWNINGS to that building?! Is that a joke? Who are these people on the HDRC?! Also, just casually asking the developer to make it bigger shows such a lack of knowledge of the realities of construction and the costs associated with it. They are doing us a great service in building something no one else could or would build and taking a huge risk doing so. These uninformed and frankly, stupid suggestions are really so disrespectful to the work these people have put into this. Saying the entrance needs to be more “Grand” and then using the current Frost building here as an example flat out blows my mind.

    I don’t know why I expect anything else from the HDRC, but this shows a new level of ineptitude to me.

    • The entrance to the current Frost building is certainly not grand. To say the HDRC cannot squash all the ugly hotels going up in downtown doesn’t make sense since the HDRC can certainly sqaush great design from ever happening.

      • I would have to say I agree. Architecturally there is nothing on the existing Frost Tower that you have arrived sans a few flag poles marking the entry point. That was a bad example to use.

    • Great point. Where were the nitpicky police when The Embassy built that disaster at the corner of Soledad and Travis? That corner is designed to scare a pedestrian more than welcome one. The nitpicky policy also dropped the ball on the Mosaic apartment complex on Broadway. Lets plans some really sad bushes on the street level instead of actual trees so that we ensure no one will ever walk on that sidewalk.

      Also, you want the tower bigger, then show up to Weston Urban with a signed lease for a company that wants to office there. If you think filling 150K square feet of class A space is easy then you have no idea what you are talking about.

    • I have to agree with the criticism of the limited height. This building is elegant in its “folded” massing but it fails miserably in the way it “meets the sky.” It is a very unsatisfying termination, coming to an abrupt stop at the top. Whoever I see the Frost Tower in Austin it looks like an eyesore on the Austin skyline, so distinctly ugly at the top. It’s like a building some hack designed for a dystopian science fiction movie. As for its cousin in San Antonio it looks like an unfinished design that is missing a needed vertical cap that meets the sky with some elegance and conviction. The overall impression is that it was insufficiently funded to build it properly.

      As for the HDRC — I concur with the many comments that take it to task for all the miserable designs that they have allowed to reach completion. What is the purpose of a review panel if we have so many mediocre buildings that become part of San Antonio’s architectural identity? More than a few of them seriously compromise the quality of the San Antonio River Walk.

      Look at the way buildings are done in other American cities (Chicago, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Boston) and then look at San Antonio’s. Cheap looking, like blow ups of cardboard study models or snap-together toy building kits.

  4. @carol Wood, you realize that most of downtown San Antonio’s buildings are Ugly, brown and beige right? I mean lets be honest San Antonio sky line sucks , and the tower of Americas , not cute

    • I live downtown, so I’m very aware of what’s here.

      The choice isn’t between a boring building or a glass tower, the choice is between glass-tower-like-dozens-of-others OR a great architectural design that’s unique for San Antonio.
      There are great buildings designed and built around the world. Sadly, that’s not what’s happening here.
      Instead, we’re getting a shorter version of something built in Dubai or a retread of what was built in Austin 15 years ago.

      • You have to think pretty highly of yourself to say that you know a good design but the guys that are world famous for building towers don’t. I would love to see your stunning portfolio of amazing tower designs so you can show us all how its done right. You are clearly someone that is an expert.

  5. @carol Wood: Thank you so much for signing up to speak. I was born and raised in San Antonio as was my mother and my grandmother came here when she was seven years old so we have history in this place. I am also a computer programmer for a popular local tech company so I understand the changing, modern technical economy and the desire to bring “world class” buildings to house businesses that could provide great job opportunities for local residents. But I agree with your sentiments. In my opinion part of what makes San Antonio unique and great is that it does not have a polluted skyline. This is something that always warmed my heart when returning home from cities like Houston or Austin. But I do think that most people don’t understand this especially if they don’t have a deep history in San Antonio. With that I am disappointed that the HDRC and the architect could not come up with a design that is more of a sort of Spanish colonial style that is true to the history and character of the city. I know that might sound crazy to most people who only look at other cities and see their glass modern looking buildings. I was hoping for something truly unique. But in all honesty I had to look up the picture of the Frost tower in Austin as at first glance I thought the one planned for San Antonio was not much different. In any case, I am at least glad that the building has an open transparent feel on the street level and am glad that it is no taller than 23 stories. I do wonder how it is that a business could get permission to use glass and such modern looking materials when if a resident in a historic area tries to just get modern windows or use brick in their driveway instead of concrete they would most likely be denied. I guess there is some legal grey area that allows this.

    • I agree. If the applicant is an wealthy person or influential company in teh city, they always get approval for whatever they want to do.

    • Fran, you are so wrong on this. There is no “legal gray area”. The land where Frost Tower will be built is a parking lot right now. A resident in the historic areas renovating their historic house must follow guidelines because they have to restore that historic house in a certain way that reflects the time when it was built. Not that I always agree with how the HDRC interprets home renovations–they’re pretty ridiculous on that. But because the tower will be on a piece of land with nothing, there’s nothing truly historic to quibble about, except the neighborhood in which the building is located.

  6. A glass tower flaunts San Antonio’s Historic Design guidelines for new construction, which states, “While new construction should not attempt to replicate historic features, new structures should not be so dissimilar as to distract from or diminish the historic interpretation of the district.” A glass tower is completely dissimilar and in no way is typical of “…nearby historic façades.” It does not complement nor connect with the historic fabric of downtown San Antonio.
    San Antonio, on the cusp of its 300th birthday, is home to the only UNESCO World Heritage site in Texas. Any new downtown building should reflect the character of our city and cultural history.
    The Frost tower in Austin was feted when it opened well over a decade ago. That look, that trend is passé. It’s old hat.
    San Antonio is hoping for something great – a truly iconic tower – that will not only embrace our history but will inspire our future. Our city deserves the very best architectural design and not a glass tower that’s simply a retread of what was built elsewhere way back at the turn of the century.

  7. The question isn’t necessarily whether to complement or redefine, it’s to achieve balance. Complementing the skyline- in effect, giving us more of the same- dilutes what we already have. Redefining the skyline is simply out of the question because doing so would play against the city’s multitude historic cues, our bread and butter.

    I feel this building strikes a balance and connects with the city’s fabric in innovative ways. For instance, by using the familiar octagonal shape of the Tower Life Building and performing a masterful and complex act of geometric transformation, we are given something that is literally a new twist. Further, 700 N St. Mary’s (One Riverwalk Place) sets precedent for an all-glass facade within the downtown precinct. Where one is a dark obsidian, this new one is a faceted diamond, both are fabulously jewel-like.

    San Antonio’s character and cultural history are more than just the UNESCO World Heritage Missions. We are a crossroads of commerce, a bastion of national defense, an emerging tech center, and most significantly, a confluence of civilizations.

    This new building is a nice entry point for hopefully a new era in high-rise construction, and in terms of history, will likely become iconic. Our next high profile project will certainly look quite different and further evolve this wonderful synthesis.

  8. Ken Shuttleworth, the architect on the design team that created 30 St Mary in London, nicknamed The Gherkin, says that because of climate change, no more glass buildings should be constructed.
    To quote:
    “‘As makers of the buildings that currently account for 60 per cent of human CO2 emissions, we all have a duty to respond with low carbon, low energy solutions,’ he said during a speech, only six years after the Gherkin was completed. ‘Lightweight fully glazed buildings, with their hermetically sealed curtain walls and massive reliance on mechanical systems, make no sense in this new world.'”
    This is from this article: http://dailym.ai/SKt27z

  9. Not only is a glass tower environmentally unsound, it’s a major hazard to birds.
    Buildings with glass façades are the second biggest killer of birds, after habitat destruction.
    San Antonio is located on the central migratory flyways. Twice each year, more than 100,000 birds travel through San Antonio.
    Why build a bird-killer here?

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