The River Barge design by Houston-based Metalab has been selected by a panel of jurors as the winner of the International River Barge Design Competition and, pending City Council approval, will be cruising the bends of the San Antonio River by the city's Tricentennial celebrations in 2018. The new barges will replace the decades-old design that has been in on the river since HemisFair '68.
Metalab will receive $20,000. The runner up, Luna Architecture + Design from San Antonio with Lay Pitman & Associates from Neptune Beach, Fla., will receive $10,000 and the third place $5,000-prize will go to Austin artists and architects Sadi Brewton and Jonathan Davies.
"Metalab’s versatile design allows for modular deck components that can accommodate a variety of uses," according to a news release. The barge design increases legroom and wheelchair accessibility and the materials used will reduce ongoing maintenance. All submissions included electric motors.
The barges will accommodate tours, dining cruises, river parades, and commuters on the San Antonio River, but the designers suggested several other uses in their proposal as well including yoga classes, concerts, play pens for kids, and more.
"(The new barge) will be another one of those great, iconic images of our city," said Councilman Roberto Treviño. "It's truly a very modular design that we can do so many different things with ... new capacities that we haven't considered before."
The jury reviewed three finalist designs this week, which were narrowed down from 12 submissions in February. The competition was organized by the City of San Antonio and the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA San Antonio) and represents the continuation of a collaborative approach to design projects in the city. After the City and AIA San Antonio complete the Stinson Airport design competition in December 2015, "we had the perfect model already in place," Treviño said.
The panel of 11 jurors included "internationally-recognized architects and engineers as well as local community leaders, artists, hospitality industry representatives, and designers providing technical to artistic input."
City Council will consider the design in late April. With approval, which Treviño is confident in, a test barge will be released onto the San Antonio River in early 2017 to make sure it works.
"Like with any design, it has to be worked out. It’s one thing to conceptualize it’s a whole other story once you get it in the water,” Treviño said. "There will be improvements made (to the design) all the way up until it's set into the water in 2018."
If approved, between 40 and 50 barges will be purchased by the City. Requests for proposals for manufacturing and 10-year operation contracts are expected to be released in May 2016. The current fleet, most of which were built in 1995 and modeled after the HemisFair design, is owned and operated by Rio San Antonio Cruises. Under the new system, the City will own the barges.
“We are impressed with the caliber of responses and appreciate each team’s dedication to the competition evidenced in their innovative design concepts,” stated Christine Viña, AIA San Antonio president. “AIA San Antonio looks forward to future opportunities to partner with the City of San Antonio in this creative approach to addressing design issues in our city.”
The offices of Metalab have closed early on Friday to celebrate the win, according to AIA San Antonio staff. Calls made to their offices by the Rivard Report were not returned by deadline.
Top image: Metalab's river barge design won the AIA San Antonio/City of San Antonio design competition. Rendering courtesy of Metalab.