Renderings from left: "A Transcending Experience" by Luna Architecture + Design and Lay Pitman & Associates; "River Boat" by METALAB; and "River Barge" by Sadi Brewton and Jonathan Davies.

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Renderings and models of the City of San Antonio’s new and improved river barge will be on public display for the first time at AIA San Antonio’s Center for Architecture on Monday, March 28, 6-8 p.m. – but no one knows yet which of the three designs will win the International River Barge Competition.

About 40 to 50 barges, depending on the winning design, will be purchased by the City and replace the decades-old barges currently owned and operated by Rio San Antonio Cruises.

Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) looks at the A Transcending Experience team barge. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) inspects the barge display by Luna Architecture + Design and Lay Pitman & Associates. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

Members of each team will be on hand Monday night during the AIA’s open house to further explain the special features of their unique designs – from materials used to barge maintenance and mechanics. The community feedback gathered via comment cards will inform a panel of 11 jurors who will announce the $20,000 winning design on Friday, April 1. Second place will receive $10,000 and third will receive $5,000.

Metalab, an architecture firm based in Houston, submitted a design that has seats that can be moved into different configurations or removed to serve as a small platform. San Antonio-based Luna Architecture + Design, which teamed up with Lay Pitman & Associates of Neptune Beach, Fla. for its submission, produced a barge design that features a removable perforated shade structure. Austin architects and artists Sadi Brewton and Jonathan Davies’ design features simple, bench-like seating with colorful, semi-translucent sides. All three designs include the use of an electric motor.

“What’s really amazing, as you can see, is the thoughtfulness,” said Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) as he examined the designs during a private preview on Friday. “What we’re looking for is something that really takes that next step (in line) with the evolution of the city.”

Scenes on the River Walk, and therefore the barges, are some of the most unique, recognizable, and iconic images of San Antonio – outside of the Alamo. As the city approaches its 300th anniversary in 2018, local community leaders are crafting new scenes for international eyes that more accurately portray its history, culture, and progress.

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“When the city is shown on national TV, whether for the Spurs championship games or golf (tournaments) … what do they show? They show the barges on the River Walk,” Treviño said. “These barges make an impact on how the rest of the world sees us. We’re a world heritage city joining the global community. This is important for how the city is recognized and identified throughout the world.”

The three final designs were narrowed down from 12 submissions, said AIA San Antonio President Christine Viña. “We have a broad based jury that’s representing a lot of different interests … I think they had a (solid) consensus decision with the finalists.”

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

The competition is the result of a collaborative between AIA San Antonio and the City’s Center City Development and Operations Department.

“It was an architect, Robert H.H. Hugman, that gave us the River Walk, so I think most appropriately you have the American Institute of Architects leading this design competition to help continue to honor that vision,” Treviño said.

The packages submitted by each team are not as simple as renderings and well-crafted models. There are multiple factors that each had to consider including versatility of use – tours and commuting, sustainable materials, turning radius, the variable depths of the river, feasibility, and price (between $40,000 to $65,000 per barge).

“Architects are, at their core, real problem solvers,” Viña said.

Problem solvers that have people from many other lines of work – engineers, mechanics, artists – on their teams for this particular design competition, Treviño said. “It’s a process that included many people, from the technical to the artistic.”

CCDO interim Director John Jacks (let) and AIA San Antonio President Christine Viña discuss the river barge design competition. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.
CCDO interim Director John Jacks (let) and AIA San Antonio President Christine Viña discuss the river barge design competition. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.

Once the design is selected, two request for proposals (RFP) will be released; one for manufacturing and one for a 10-year operating contract.

“It’s open to anybody that wants to apply,” said CCDO interim Director John Jacks. “There will be a whole new process to determine operations.”

By separating the design, manufacturing, and operation processes, Treviño said, the City is able to find the best of each worlds because the selected firm’s focus doesn’t have to be split between the two. Good designers can focus on design, good operators can focus on operations.

The requests for proposals (RFP) for manufacturing and operations are expected to go out in April 2016. New boats could be on the river by September 2017, with plenty of time for full deployment by the 2018 Tricentennial celebrations.

The total cost of the competition comes to $88,000 and is funded by an agreement between the City, which contributed $38,000; San Antonio River Authority, $25,000; and the City’s San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau, $25,000. AIA San Antonio is being paid $15,000 to manage the competition for the City.

Once this competition is over, the City and AIA San Antonio plan to take on another, smaller competition that will call for designs for a new, wheelchair accessible City Hall front entrance.

(Read More: Architects to Take Aim at City Hall’s Wheelchair Accessibility)

This story was originally published on Sunday, March 27.

Top image: Renderings from left: “A Transcending Experience” by Luna Architecture + Design and Lay Pitman & Associates; “River Boat” by Metalab; and “River Barge” by Sadi Brewton and Jonathan Davies. 

Related Stories:

Three Finalists Emerge in River Barge Design Competition

BYOBroadway: An Open Competition to Design a Great Street

Design Challenge: Reimagining San Antonio River Walk Barges

Architects to Take Aim at City Hall’s Wheelchair Accessibility

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at