The winning design for Stinson air Filed's new air traffic control tower. Image courtesy of HiWorks + Work5hop

A design competition for a new air traffic control tower at historic Stinson Air Field on the city’s Southside has been won by a trio of three architects from two startup firms in San Antonio, Brantley Hightower of HiWorks and Jay Louden and Rebekah Perez of Work5hop. “Wings Over Stinson,” was selected from 16 design entries with the winning team awarded a $15,000 prize. The design team added graceful canvass wings to the tower that recall the air field’s early days when aircraft were constructed of wood and canvass.

Hightower said the team’s design honors Stinson’s important place in early aviation history and will serve as a Southside beacon in the Mission Historic District, now a World Heritage site. The design competition was sponsored by the City of San Antonio, the Texas Department of Transportation and the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects, which announced the winning entry Tuesday evening.

From left: Brantley Hightower, AIA LEED AP; Rebekah Perez, Associate AIA; and Jay Louden, AIA.
From left: Brantley Hightower, AIA LEED AP; Rebekah Perez, Associate AIA; and Jay Louden, AIA.

“The new tower design is a good representation of the history of Stinson airport and the Stinson family,” said Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3). “The LED lighting options offer creative opportunities and connect the Southside to lighting celebrations going on downtown during the Christmas season and during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The wings for the tower represent the design of some of the first airplanes that were flown at Stinson. It will be a stunning stand alone tower.”

The importance of the Southside to San Antonio’s growth as a city and its approaching 300th anniversary in 2018 has opened once-closed doors to inner city investment and preservation that belie the decades of neglect once visited upon this side of San Antonio. That change has emboldened Viagran to press for greater sensitivity in how Southside development is treated at City Hall. In the case of Stinson Air Field, she has a passionate ally in Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), who is a practicing architect who pilots his own single-engine airplane. Since taking office in 2014, Treviño has repeatedly introduced the subject of sensitive design when major City projects have come up for consideration at City Council.

The Stinson Air Field competition was sparked by Viagran and Treviño, who shared a concern that a planned new control tower by AJT Engineering of Cocoa, Florida, the firm hired by TxDOT, would leave Stinson with a generic concrete block that detracted from the air field’s 100-year history. Both council members saw the opportunity to turn to the local architecture community for design work that elevates the new tower to something that becomes iconic over the next century of aviation at Stinson.

“The winning design evokes the rich aviation history that once thrived at this airport. I am pleased the design showcases aerospace technology and architecture to create a unique and beautiful work to stand proudly between runways and in the landscape of the Southside of San Antonio,” Treviño said. “The previously designed Air Traffic Control Tower did not reflect the uniqueness and vibrant past of Stinson Airport, so a design competition was commissioned as the most appropriate approach to modify the design.  I am grateful to the American Institute of Architects for hosting the competition and to the City of San Antonio and TxDOT for embracing this approach to thoughtful design. I believe we are a City by Design and must take every opportunity to express our rich history deeply embedded throughout our city.”

The proposed Stinson Air Field tower design by AJT Engineering of Cocca, Florida prior to the design competition.  Courtesy of City of San Antonio
The proposed Stinson Air Field tower design by AJT Engineering of Cocca, Florida prior to the design competition. Courtesy of City of San Antonio

The $15,000 prize is not insignificant for architects at newly-established firms, but more importantly, Hightower, Louden and Perez now have an opportunity to place their lasting stamp on San Antonio if their selection Tuesday leads to a formal role in the project that assures their design is honored.

“Stinson Air Field deserves an iconic landmark that reflects its place in aviation history,” Hightower said after learning Tuesday of his team’s selection. “Back in the early years of flying if you were barnstorming across the country you probably landed at Stinson.”

The jurors for the design competition included Chuck Armstrong, FAIA, from Corgan Associates in Dallas, a firm renowned for their aviation architecture; Daniel Hart, FAIA, P.E., Principal with Parkhill, Smith & Cooper in Midland; and Sue Ann Pemberton, FAIA Principal, Mainstreet Architects, a San Antonio firm specializing in preservation. Pemberton also served in the capacity as the Director of UTSA’s Center for Architectural Engagement.

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Stinson Air Field, the second oldest general aviation airport in the United States, was founded in 1915 by three siblings in the Stinson family who opened the Stinson School of Flying on 500 acres of leased pasture land. The school continued until World War I when civilian flight was restricted. The Works Progress Administration built the terminal building in 1935-36, and the U.S. Army Air Force used the air field as a training base in World War II. Today the air field is known as Stinson Municipal Airport and is home to many small aircraft, Alamo Helicopter Tours, the Civil Air Patrol, the San Antonio Police Department’s helicopter, the regional Texas Air Museum, multiple flight schools and aircraft maintenance services.

“AIA San Antonio’s opportunity to partner with the City of San Antonio and TxDOT on the Stinson Air Traffic Control Tower Replacement opens a community dialogue about the importance of place,” said Torrey Stanley Carleton,” AIA San Antonio’s executive director. “It is easy to understand that a modern air traffic control tower is important, but shouldn’t that new Tower also embody the values of the community it serves? The voice of an architect should be a part of that dialogue.”

Stinson Municipal Airport. Photo courtesy of the City of San Antonio.
Stinson Municipal Airport. Photo courtesy of the City of San Antonio.

*Top image: The winning design for Stinson air Filed’s new air traffic control tower. Image courtesy of HiWorks + Work5hop.

CORRECTION:  An earlier version of this story stated that AJT Engineering was hired by the City of San Antonio. The project was managed by TxDOT, which hired the firm.

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Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report who retired in 2022, has been a working journalist for 46 years. He is the host of the bigcitysmalltown podcast.