Raising the bar

Transformational San Antonio park wins one of architecture's highest honors

Transformational San Antonio park wins architecture's highest honor

Confluence Park San Antonio
Confluence Park was one of nine international sites honored by the American Institute of Architects. American Institute of Architects

Lauded when it debuted in March 2018 for its contemporary style and an ambitious vision, Confluence Park transformed the green space where the San Antonio River meets San Pedro Creek in south San Antonio. Now, the American Institute of Architects has taken notice.

On January 29, the professional organization awarded the project one of its prestigious 2019 Institute Honor Award for Architecture — alongside just six other U.S. sites and two international projects. The nod followed recognition from the San Antonio chapter of AIA, which gave the project its Honor Award in December 2018.

The AIA awards program “celebrates the best contemporary architecture regardless of budget, size, style, or type,” according to its website. “These stunning projects show the world the range of outstanding work architects create and highlight the many ways buildings and spaces can improve our lives.”

The park did just that in an economically challenged area of San Antonio – turning a former construction storage area into a scenic waterside space for educational programs and recreation along the Mission Reach section of the San Antonio River. At the behest of the San Antonio River Foundation, a collaborative design team worked to create a destination for learning and outdoor fun.

Amid a contoured landscape, an education center with shuttered doorways opens into a shady, 26-foot tall pavilion that seems to flutter upward with 22 flamboyant arches, or “petals.” The pavilion serves as a stark, contemporary landmark that contrasts with the area’s ornate, historic missions.

A press release from the San Antonio River Foundation points to strong collaboration among the team of architects, landscape architects, civil engineers, and other designers. Realizing the transformational potential of the project, the team worked hard to realize “the client’s vision of the design itself inspiring environmental education and stewardship,” says Tenna Florian, lead design, associate partner at Lake Flato Architects.

In its description of the project for the awards program, the AIA notes that the pavilion design draws from local plants, with the vaulted sections streaming rainwater into underground collection tanks. But beyond the park’s structural aesthetic, the AIA recognizes the community impact of the project. As it approaches its first birthday, the Foundation says the park has served 14,000 students and program attendees, and hosted 30 nonprofits and 50 schools for different events.

Confluence Park has become a community gathering space that area neighborhoods can call their own. “This park, and the awards it is receiving, is an example of ‘build with authenticity, build something that matters’” said Robert Amerman, executive director of the San Antonio River Foundation.

Confluence Park ranks alongside eight other winners that include:

  • The Restoration of the Rotunda at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia.
  • The Smithsonian Museum of African American Culture and History, Washington, D.C.
  • The TIRPITZ Museum, Denmark

That’s heady company for a signature San Antonio park. Those who haven’t been yet can get the most out of their first visit by downloading the tour guide.