Cesar Pelli with Eero Saarinen at Saarinen’s office, Circa 1960. Credit: Courtesy / Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects

Building by building, thoughtful architecture has the power to shape a city and infuse it with character and innovative design that is both beautiful and sustainable.

That’s what the team at world-renowned architecture company Pelli Clarke Pelli (PCP) is imagining for the proposed 23-story Frost Bank Tower in downtown San Antonio, the project the firm is leading alongside the project’s developer and investor Weston Urban and local architectural consultant Alamo Architects.

“The Frost Tower will (add) a poetic gesture in its place, a sense of movement, of going toward the sky, of disappearing against the sky. It’s going to be as sensitive of a design as we could do,” Pelli Clarke Pelli founder César Pelli told the Rivard Report Monday at the University of Texas San Antonio (UTSA)’s Architecture Speaker Series, where he was the guest of honor.

“I think it will be a lovely vision in San Antonio,” he added.

Promising to bring the San Antonio skyline into the 21st century, the 400,000 sq. ft. structure is completely glass-faced and shoots upward into the sky. The tower will feature 250,000 sq. ft. of office space for Frost Bank employees and another 150,000 sq. ft. for other tenants, and will seamlessly connect with the developing San Pedro Creek Improvements Project around it.

The tower’s overall design already received preliminary approval from the Historic Design and Review Commission (HDRC) in July, pending minor changes proposed by commissioners mostly related to the pedestrian experience around the building.

According to PCP Principal Bill Butler, the design team has been working on making the minor, suggested changes by HDRC and has finally chosen the material for the building enclosure.

“We know much more about its characteristics and qualities,” he said. “The glass changes its character through the course of the day. It can be reflective when the sun is bright during the day, but it can also be quite transparent which means the tower can be much more lively and have a more public presence on the street.

“We’re thrilled the engineering and material selection has gone that direction.”

The building’s base will act like a “pavilion in the park.

“It’s very much a landscaped building that has on almost all sides a pedestrian walkway that will be quite public,” Butler added.

The team plans to head back to HDRC for final design approval sometime in January or February, Alamo Architects founding Principal Irby Hightower told the Rivard Report after Pelli’s presentation. The tower is slated for completion by late 2018 or early 2019.

The City’s approval process for building and designing new structures in the urban core can often be lengthy, but many, like Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), who also is an architect, see it is an underappreciated effort that poses a vital aspect of San Antonio’s success.

“Design is a tool, not just something that people take as aesthetic. It’s a thoughtful approach,” said Treviño, who introduced Pelli before he gave his remarks. “Buildings should be responsible citizens as well, and that’s key.”

Pelli, who is originally from Argentina, is regarded as one of the 10 most influential living American architects. He has designed many major urban landmarks and some of the tallest buildings in the world, including the world’s tallest buildings – the Petronas Twin Towers, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Xavier University Chapel, New Orleans, Louisiana, Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects.
Xavier University Chapel, New Orleans, Louisiana, Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects. Credit: Jeff Goldberg/ESTO; copyright of Jeff Goldberg/ESTO

On Monday evening, the 90-year-old architect discussed the projects he completed throughout his career, both before and after he started his firm in 1977 – projects that have taken him all over the world and the United States.

Pelli has designed everything from the Xavier University Chapel in New Orleans to the United Nations headquarters in Vienna, Austria. In San Antonio, Pelli has been inspired by the city’s rich history and culture.

“It still feels like a city that has strong Mexican and Spanish heritage,” he said. “I see that, in many ways, it looks like a Latin American city and in other ways I like it because it’s so dynamic and so fresh.”

Camille Garcia is a journalist born and raised in San Antonio. She formerly worked at the San Antonio Report as assistant editor and reporter. Her email is camillenicgarcia@gmail.com