Plans for the proposed 23-story Frost Bank Tower received unanimous conceptual approval and praise for its overall design from the Historic Design and Review Commission (HDRC) Wednesday, but commissioners urged the project planners and architects to make adjustments to the “pedestrian experience” the office tower will create.
The street level design, main entrance, and how the building interacts with San Pedro Creek were among the details commissioners provided critical feedback on.
“We’re supporting this project whole-heartedly,” said Commissioner Tim Cone, “but we’re really going to focus on these kind of small items.”
The design team, lead by world-renowned architecture firm Pelli Clarke Pelli (PCP), will return to HDRC for final approval this fall, when design schematics are closer to completion. Architects will take commissioner criticisms into consideration as they develop new renderings, said Alamo Architects Founding Principal Irby Hightower, the local architectural consultant for the project.
These concerns are “normal” for a high profile structure like the Frost Bank Tower, he said.
Weston Urban is building the new Frost Bank headquarters as part of a private-public partnership and property swap between the local developer, Frost, and the City of San Antonio. Click here to learn more about the deal.
“What you’ve heard today are the nitpicky points of a design,” Cone said. “But I did want to commend the developer, especially for putting together a world class architectural team to bring this project to the city. It’s fun to nitpick at a project that’s this fantastic.”
The 400,000 sq. ft. glass-faced building reaches high into the sky, but the transparent base and “the way it meets the street” attracted more commissioner attention than its effect on the skyline. Some commissioners suggested that architects incorporate awnings or some kind of feature that would distinguish the pedestrian level and entrance of the building from the rest of the glass curtain.
The increased transparency of the base is what distinguishes it from the rest of the building, said PCP Principal Bill Butler, like a “pavilion in the park.”
On the ground floor outside, pedestrians will be able to see the activity inside Frost’s retail branch and commercial tenants on Houston Street. Inside, customers and employees will have a clear view of San Pedro Creek, the adjacent park, as well as the live oak tree allée along the street. Tenants have not yet been selected to fill the 20,000 sq. ft. available, but Butler said it will be designed for retail shops and restaurants.
“We imagine it to be active for the greater part of the day,” Butler said. “We see this as something that is visually accessible, that is transparent, but also separate from the shaft that rises above.”
HDRC Vice Chair Michael Connor said that the main entrance to the office tower should make more of a statement.
“A jarring thing is the lack of perceived significance to the entry,” said Connor, especially when compared to the current Frost Tower. “That’s one of few places in San Antonio when you’re walking down the street, you get a sense that you’ve arrived someplace.”
The base of the building and the surrounding area lacks a “grand, public gesture,” said Commissioner Daniel Lazerine in agreement.
As the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project takes shape, commissioners asked tower designers to be cognizant of the way the tower relates to the creek, which is slated to become a linear park by 2018. The tower will take at least two years to construct once it breaks ground later this year.
As landscaping plans continue to develop, “we’re working with San Pedro Creek design team to marry (designs) up well,” Hightower said.
Connor suggested the tower be built a little taller.
“You folks are taking an opportunity to build an iconic building in San Antonio with that right comes a responsibility,” he said. “I think the building could be a little bit better if it were a little bit taller.”
Carol Wood, a downtown resident, was the only citizen that signed up to speak to the commission about the project.
“Everyone is excited about adding a new tower,” Wood said, “but a glass tower is dissimilar (to other downtown structures) and doesn’t complement or connect with the historic fabric of downtown San Antonio.”
The glass design is also a major hazard to birds and will require disproportionate amounts of electricity, she said.
Butler said that the team is striving for a LEED Silver rating for the building, and its design calls for the use of highly energy-efficient glass, which allows 70% less heat energy to enter the building.
LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, places an emphasis on exterior design as it relates to energy efficiency, he said, “so that’s really the most important part of the building and what we’ve focused the most on.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that Michael Guarino suggested the tower be built taller, but it was Michael Connor.
Top image: The new, proposed Frost Tower at night. Rendering by Pelli Clarke Pelli, courtesy of Weston Urban.