Sometimes the smallest events make the best, if not the biggest, stories. That was the case Friday morning as a small group of San Antonio College architecture and design students gathered outside the City’s Houston Street Parking Garage and their public art project mounted prominently on the building’s limestone facade facing East Houston Street.
Hundreds of thousands of people come and go from the garage next to the Majestic Theater over the space of one year, so theater goers and others this weekend and for the next six months or so will undoubtedly be stopped in their tracks by the work, a silvery aluminum sail coursing with fiber optic light against a sonic backdrop of an understated music mix. Native epiphytes, or air plants, sourced at the San Antonio Botanical Garden, provide the “Bio” in “Biotechnic.” The sheath of aluminum screening resembles a ship; one can imagine the entire creation slowly floating above the River Walk and heading south toward the Mission Reach.
Councilmember Roberto C. Treviño (D1), a practicing architect, was on hand to welcome the sidewalk throng of students, members of the City’s Center City Development & Operations Department (CCDO), representatives of the local chapter of American Institute of Architects (AIA), and Dwayne Bohuslav, the understandably proud architecture program coordinator at SAC. The crowd swelled as curious passersby stopped to see what all the excitement was about.
“District 1 is thrilled to collaborate with AIA to provide an opportunity for SAC and UTSA architecture students to showcase their artwork in the community,” Councilman Treviño said. “The Houston Street Garage is highly visible and provides the perfect backdrop to highlight their creative vision.”
The installation is the first of two that will be on display at the Houston Street Garage. The work by the SAC students will remain in place until April 2016 when it will come down to make way for a second installation conceived and built by UTSA College of Architecture students. The innovative public art program designed to enhance downtown parking garages was launched by CCDO staff, which jointly funds the student projects with the local AIA chapter, both of whom contributed $500 to the SAC student group.
“We came in $15 over budget,” Bohuslav quipped as he posed for photos with the students in front of the installation, titled “Biotechnic.”
What happens to “Biotechnic” when it comes down?
“We want to sell it and raise money for scholarships,” said Christopher Roberson, the student group’s spokesman.
What’s it worth, I wondered out loud.
“$10,000!” Maise Rashid confidently declared, not missing a beat.
This diverse group of excited, grinning sophomores did not lack confidence or ambition, I quickly realized. I asked if they had plans to apply to four-year architecture or design schools after they complete their two-year degree at SAC.
“We want to stick together and go to the same school, and when we graduate, start our own firm,” Alejandro Luna told me.
I mentioned that some of the city’s most notable architecture firms – Alamo Architects, Lake/Flato, Overland Partners – had their roots in such college friendships.
“We’re going to be better,” one of the students responded.
The remark didn’t sound at all boastful. Rather it sounded aspirational, hopeful. That collective enthusiasm and idealism is what made a relatively un-newsy event so interesting to me, to spend an hour with young students, most likely from modest backgrounds, perhaps the first in their families to attend college. Together, they believed, they represented real possibility. It’s amazing what $1,000 in arts funding can do to energize and encourage a group of talented, eager-to-grow community college students. Bohuslav spoke with pride of the work his students in the Design 3 Studio at SAC conceived, designed, fabricated, and installed themselves.
“On behalf of San Antonio College’s Architecture Program, it was our great privilege to respond to Councilman Treviño’s challenge,” Bohuslav said. “With encouragement from AIA San Antonio and the City we realized our ‘Biotechnic’ installation. This installation represents my students’ belief that our city is a living organism: combining structural bones, living responsive systems, ribs and skin into a negotiated symbiosis between the biological and the technological.”
“The innovation offered by San Antonio College’s ‘Biotechnic’ installation vividly illustrates the power of architecture and public art to transform our downtown streetscape. AIA San Antonio is proud to be a partner with the City of San Antonio and District 1 Councilman, Roberto C. Trevino, AIA in this visionary project,” said Torrey Stanley Carleton, executive director of AIA San Antonio.
After the speeches, the students posed for selfies in front of their artwork and then mingled on the sidewalk, too excited for the moment to end.
*Top image: ‘Biotechnic’ in daylight, a public art installation at the Houston Street Garage, the work of San Antonio College Architecture Program students. Photo by Robert Rivard