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Very soon, San Antonio’s skyline will be getting a much anticipated addition. A new tower of silvery, shimmering glass top to bottom. It’ll be a standout, especially when there’s nothing else like it for 75 miles around.
According to the press release accompanying the building’s announcement, the main direction given to the architects who designed it was “anything but beige.”
The stylists stayed 100% true to their assignment and offered up a tall glass box, similar to the ubiquitous glass boxes in downtowns not exactly known for their charm. Houston comes to mind. And Dallas. And more and more, just up the road, Austin.
Nothing against tall glass boxes. Especially this one. It’s quite beautiful for what it is. And most thriving cities today have them in spades, presumably because to many, they project power, wealth, importance, and high tech-ness. Question is, should we rush to join the parade? Or would this be a good time to stand back and take a second look at who we are and what we’re doing and stick with our downtown core.
Far be it from me to question the taste of modern architectural masters or the respected leaders of our great city. However, since all important public buildings are subject to public opinion, I’d like to make my case for beige.
Beige is beautiful. Beige is the most natural color on earth, because it is the color of earth. Beige is the color of limestone; the soft, soulful stone that personifies the very foundation our city is built upon. Beige, in all its subtle variations of yellow, eggshell, tan, khaki, peach, cool and warm grays can be found in every corner of our city. Other earthy colors like brown, yellow, and red brick are natural complements to the limestone.
Our home in Southtown is beige. The Alamo is beige. A drive through the delightfully beige King William Historic District has warmed the hearts of millions for over 130 years. La Villita, the River Walk, and the buildings that line its banks are shades of beige and earthy colors. Beige gives our town its uniqueness. It’s personality. Its essence.
San Antonio is San Antonio because, much like Willie Nelson, we’ve never given a damn about what the other folks are saying or doing. We just write our own songs, sing them, and dance to them. And the world comes to our doorstep for the experience.
San Antonio is San Antonio not just because of what we build, but because of what we’ve saved. We’ve been smart enough – or lucky enough – to save some very old stuff. The old beige stuff. Stuff that gave our Missions a World Heritage designation, the only one it Texas; stuff that gave an old beige home that once belonged to conservationist and collector Walter Mathis the only National Trust for Historic Preservation label in the state of Texas.
Market Square is beige dotted with red brick. The stately historic homes that line the streets in Fort Sam Houston and make it a standout among military bases are beige. The San Fernando Cathedral is beige. The old Esquire Bar was beige until someone in the 1960s decided that covering the front with maroon tile was cool. Thankfully, they left the river exterior beige. The Tobin is hip, mostly because it saved its beige façade and combined it with award-winning contemporary architecture.
The coolest place in town, the Pearl, is beige. The original Frost Bank Tower was beige. You could say that the old Frost Bank Tower that now houses the City Council Chambers and the current Frost Tower are even more subdued than beige. They’re gray. Granite gray. Strong and true as the people who built them.
Even our tall glass and stone buildings downtown built in the ‘80s have a certain restraint to them. They may not all be beige, but they’re nicely understated, much like San Antonio’s persona. As a city, we’re more Tim Duncan than we are Kobe Bryant. More Central Park than Disneyland.
Now, one could argue, and I wouldn’t disagree, that one glass box in a sea of beige could be a very unique focal point. But the problem with these things is, they tend to multiply. One day there’s one and the next day, boom, you wake up in downtown Houston. Plus, there’s plenty of room for glass boxes on the loops.
There is one thing you could say about a glass edifice in downtown San Antonio. It will be a nice, big mirror to beautifully reflect the beige cityscape all around it.
Top image: A pedestrian walks by the beige Municipal Plaza Building. Photo by Scott Ball.