Integrating three historical buildings presents a challenge in the Alamo Museum design. Credit: Courtesy / Brantley Hightower

I was thrilled when I first heard of the selection of Machado Silvetti as the architect for the new Alamo Museum here in San Antonio. I’ve been a fan of the firm’s work for some time. From their bold design for Wiess College at Rice University in Houston to their sensitive remodeling of the Getty Villa in Los Angeles, their work has consistently shown a respect for the history and uniqueness of a particular place.

The Alamo, of course, is one such unique and particular place.

In addition to being the “Shrine of Texas Liberty,” the Alamo represents a fascinating nexus of history, legend, commerce, and culture. It’s a tremendously important place in our city, in our state, and in our imagination.

Some may claim an architecture firm headquartered in Boston and led by two architects from Argentina can’t possibly understand the significance of the Alamo. Some may say that only a firm from Texas could design a museum to tell the quintessentially Texan story of the Alamo.

I respectfully disagree.

For over three hundred years, San Antonio existed as a confluence of cultures. People from all over the world have come to build their lives here. They may not have been born in Texas, but they quickly learned that this was a special place that was worth fighting to protect. It’s worth remembering that William Travis was from South Carolina, Davy Crockett was from North Carolina by way of Tennessee, and Jim Bowie was from Kentucky by way of Louisiana.

It’s also worth remembering that Tim Duncan was born in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Tony Parker was born in Belgium, and Manu Ginobli was born in Argentina, the same place the two founding partners of Machado Silvetti call home. En unión y libertad.

I have no idea what the team at Machado Silvetti will propose, but I genuinely believe their design for the Alamo Museum will reflect the fact that the San Antonio that exists today represents three centuries of historical layers. The Alamo is, after all, an 18th-century mission that served as the site of a 19th-century battle that then became a cultural icon in the 20th-century. Anything added in the 21st-century should build upon those layers.

The site of the museum is as rich with history as the mission it faces and whose story it is to tell. The famed local architect Alfred Giles designed the 1882 Crockett Block for the legendary Maverick family. The 1923 Palace Theater was once operated by John Louis Santikos who went on to build the largest family-owned theatre company in Texas. The 1921 Woolworth Building was the site of the first lunch counter to be peaceably desegregated in the South. All three of these buildings sit on what was once the west wall of the original Alamo compound.

Integrating these historical layers and structures while creating a world-class museum will be difficult. It’s a tough design problem to be sure, but it’s a challenge I know Machado Silvetti is capable of meeting. In projects around the world, they have demonstrated a creative sensitivity to what others have built while proposing a bold vision for the future.

I’m confident they will find a way to do that here in San Antonio as well.

Brantley Hightower is an architect at HiWorks. He also teaches at San Antonio College and is the interim editor of Texas Architect magazine.