Most of Rio San Antonio Cruises' river barges are about 20 years old. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.
Most of Rio San Antonio Cruises' river barges are about 20 years old. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.

Three teams of architects and designers have been selected as finalists for the International River Barge Design Competition organized by the City of San Antonio and the American Institute of Architect’s local chapter (AIA San Antonio).

San Antonio-based Luna Architecture + Design, which teamed up with Lay Pitman & Associates of Neptune Beach, Fla.; Metalab, an architecture firm in Houston; and Austin-based architects and artists Sadi Brewton and Jonathan Davies will each receive up to $2,500 for travel expenses and $7,500 to more fully develop their submitted designs for the next phase of the competition.

Graphic courtesy of the City of San Antonio. Click to enlarge.
Graphic courtesy of the City of San Antonio. Click to enlarge.

The jury, made up of 11 professionals of varying backgrounds and expertise, considered 12 anonymous submissions before selecting the top three teams, according to a City news release sent out Wednesday afternoon. Their selections were “based on design innovation, functionality, operational and program capabilities and sensitivity to San Antonio’s culture.” All teams submitted a battery-powered barge design.

“The submission concepts ranged from historic to contemporary and many offered innovative new concepts for barge uses,” stated AIA San Antonio President Christine Viña in the release. “We look forward to seeing the full expression of the finalist teams’ visions in the next phase of this competition.”

Registration for the contest closed in January, but most teams have been working since the competition’s launch in October to come up with a more modern, technologically advanced river barge to replace the 1995 design seen traversing the San Antonio River Walk today. The impetus for the competition is the City’s Tricentennial Celebration in 2018, the highly anticipated citywide celebration that is expected to draw eyes from all over the world to San Antonio’s past, present and future.

“The new river barge is an asset that belongs to all of San Antonio,” stated Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), who is an architect, in the release. “The open house is an opportunity for our citizens to provide input on which design they feel represents San Antonio. Design teams were challenged to think beyond aesthetics and truly transform the river barge experience for the next generation. Community feedback on the design is critical to a successful outcome.”

That feedback will be gathered when each team presents their final concept to the jury during a free design open house at the AIA Center for Architecture Gallery at 1344 S. Flores St. on Monday, March 28 from 6-8 p.m. Each design team is “required to submit a 3-D physical model, detailed renderings, technical specifications, cost estimate for construction, branding and materials samples,” according to the release, and will be at the event to answer questions from community members.

Finalists will then give private presentations to the jury, which will select and announce a winner by Friday, April 2.

First place will receive $20,000, second place $10,000, and third place $5,000. The winning design will also go on to be used in two requests for proposals; one for barge manufacturing and another 10-year contract for barge operation and programming. According to the release, the RFPs will go out in late April, about one month after initially anticipated.

The $88,000 design competition is sponsored by a City funding agreement (which contributed $38,000 to total), San Antonio River Authority ($25,000), and the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau ($25,000). AIA San Antonio is being paid $15,000 to manage the competition for the City.

“This innovative approach to river travel is creating a sustainable future for San Antonio and our world-famous River Walk,” said Mayor Ivy R. Taylor. “The new river barges will create an outstanding transportation option, with the possibility of allowing some residents to commute to work on an all-electric barge. The new fleet will honor the original 1920s River Walk design as San Antonio prepares for its Tricentennial in 2018.”

*Top image: Most of Rio San Antonio Cruises’ river barges are about 20 years old. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.

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Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. She was the San Antonio Report's...