The tree-lined streets of the Monte Vista and Alamo Heights neighborhoods already enjoy plentiful shade from towering live oaks and mature elms, but other areas of San Antonio aren’t so fortunate.
That’s one reason Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) is particularly pleased by the winning proposals of the Shade Equity Design Competition he helped foster in collaboration with Centro San Antonio and the American Institute of Architects San Antonio chapter.
Two first-place winners were announced Monday, with a tie between Guy Hundere Artist + Sprinkle Co. of San Antonio and Campbell Landscape Architecture of Austin. Both winners offer practical solutions to bringing shade to more areas of the city, and one provides an added benefit of nighttime lighting.
“These are the basic quality of life issues that the city can address,” Treviño said. “Good sidewalks, good trees, proper lighting. This project encompasses all that,” he said, with an emphasis on equity. “The idea is that we want to provide this equitably throughout our city.”
The Sombra de la Acacia project by artist-and-architect team Guy Hundere Artist + Sprinkle Co. uses metalwork structures based on acacia trees, a common natural shade feature of tropical and subtropical climates. The “leaves” of the structures include solar panels that power LED lights for illumination during evening and nighttime hours, for the dual purpose of safety and celebration, as the lights can change colors according to the occasion.
The structures can contract or expand depending on their site, and can be connected over streets to form archways similar to natural tree-lined streets.
Architect Davis Sprinkle and artist Guy Hundere are brothers who don’t usually work together, but said the competition offered an opportunity to finally combine their talents. “He and I communicate well,” Hundere said.
The two did not begin with acacia trees as a design element, but the idea emerged as their process evolved, using a thin “trunk,” branch-like supports, and a canopy made of leaf-like elements that could both provide shade and support artificial lighting.
Hundere said trees are an obvious choice for shade, and “having something actually living I think would be ideal for lowering the temperature in the city,” though he and Sprinkle mentioned maintenance issues and the difficulties presented by planting large trees led them toward an artificial solution.
The design of other first-place winner, titled Growing (S.A.)Hade, accommodates both concerns with modular tree planters that can be placed and moved at will, with simple irrigation systems for drought-tolerant trees that can be easily maintained by the City’s regular maintenance crews.
After exploring various solutions, landscape architect Cameron Campbell’s background in biology led him toward incorporating actual trees. “We thought we really need something that’s green, that’s living, that provides a whole variety of ecosystem services” downtown and beyond, he said.
Noting in his proposal that “South Texas Plains trees have shaded San Antonio for centuries,” Campbell’s project features ready-to-purchase desert willows, retamas, honey mesquite, and huisache trees common to the region, each with a 6-foot to 10-foot height and canopy from the day they are planted.
The planter design incorporates the distinctive roofline of the Alamo and handcrafted tiles with patterning based on papel picado, while offering the key element of portability within a constantly changing downtown landscape, Campbell said.
Having grown up in San Antonio, Campbell used the example of the Battle of Flowers parade to demonstrate the potential of the planters.
“You could pick these things up with a forklift and close off six streets with them, and create shade for an event, and then reposition them back on the sidewalk … three days later, with little work,” he said.
Bringing nature back into the city is an added benefit, Campbell said. “I love the idea of reintegrating the nature of this eco-region back into downtown and really being truthful to what this place is in terms of microclimates,” he said, comparing the drought-tolerant species to the more river-oriented bald cypress and Mexican sycamores common to the River Walk’s moister microclimate.
Initially, the first place winner was to have received a $10,000 prize, with second place receiving $3,500. Treviño said the prizes would be combined and split evenly between the two winners. A project titled Silhouetted Canvas by the Carrollton firm AJT, comprised of architects Alexander Griffin, Joel D. Dueñas, and Trang Tran, took third place and a $1,000 prize.
Treviño said implementation will begin soon, with $500,000 already dedicated to the project through the Houston Street Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) and $250,000 from Centro.
Growing (S.A.)Hade is a simpler project to undertake in terms of materials, Treviño said, and will likely be the first results seen on San Antonio streets, while Hundere and Sprinkle said their Sombra de la Acacia project will likely go through another design and materials selection phase.
Once people see the initial results on the streets, Treviño said he’s confident the shade equity project will achieve its goals of expanding infrastructural amenities citywide, helping take the city past the “Decade of Downtown” to a decade of the entire community.
“This is about people,” he said of innovative solutions to architecture and design. “[The winning designs] celebrate people, they celebrate life, they celebrate fun, they celebrate joy. … The point of these kinds of things that will be in pedestrian areas are to welcome people … and provide them comfort, provide them a welcome message.”