|Architects Ryan Bloom, Daniel Perez (seated) and Project Manager Suresh Modadugu|
discuss Brackenridge High School's design during a recent meeting at Stantec Architecture.
I may have just helped the architects heading up Brackenridge High School’s Bond project with a structural design decision! More on that in a moment.
This week I spent a couple of hours with the folks at Stantec architecture, a global firm with roots in the United States, and even right here in San Antonio. Their motto, which is evident from the moment you walk into their north side office building, is ‘design with community in mind.’ After talking with the architects about their project at Brackenridge, it’s certainly true that they do keep the community at the top of mind in everything that they do.
|Architect Ryan Bloom compares schematic design to|
renderings of the atrium at Brackenridge HS.
I thought a behind-the-scenes look from the architects would be the perfect chance to get a sneak peek at one of the Bond 2016 projects, and that would also help us understand what’s going on across the rest of the dozen projects. This is an important time in creating the designs for what the schools will look like!
I met with one of the main architects working on Brackenridge’s redesign, Ryan Bloom. Let me tell you, he is extremely passionate about his job! He, along with Stantec’s San Antonio Office Principal Daniel Perez and Stantec Project Manager Suresh Modadugu, quite literally held a design session right in front of me. On this particular day, the architects were discussing the front entrance and side of the building facing Eagleland Dr. They say that this corner is so important because it’s the cornerstone of the neighborhood. Ryan feels that the corner of the building should celebrate the history of Brackenridge, going back to the school’s very beginnings in the early 20th century, as well as integrate with the community it’s in. Again, there’s that sense of community.
|Principal Daniel Perez, left, and architect Ryan Bloom, discuss design|
plans for Brackenridge HS.
The team says the most enjoyable part of this project at Brackenridge is the fact that SAISD is allowing them to explore the true look and feel of 21st century learning. Whereas other districts in the area might be set on a certain style that works for them, Daniel says what’s great about SAISD’s philosophy is that the District isn’t afraid to push the envelope. One example of this is what’s called a learning staircase. If you’re familiar with Brackenridge, or even if you’re not, the large atrium where students eat lunch or gather for pep rallies features a staircase leading to the second floor. One of Stantec's ideas may be to replace the traditional staircase and install a learning staircase. This new method of learning is where students can sit, walk to the next level, gather in an auditorium-like setting for lectures or presentations, or hold classes.
|A view of the Stantec offices in north central San Antonio.|
But there are challenges, too. According to the team, one such challenge is how to lay out new spaces that are attached to existing buildings. Brackenridge will basically be gutted, but the buildings will remain. Even though the architects described this as one of the challenges, I got the feeling that it’s fun for them to be creative and strategic in their designs.
Now back to that design decision. Ryan and the team debated between a solid wall or an open space at the end of the main building at the front of the school. They joked that two architects, let alone three, never agree. Ryan couldn’t decide between which style he liked best, but felt the open design fit better. They asked me what I thought, and I agreed. This was an exciting moment! Soon, the community will have the same chance to be a part of the design process such as this during community meetings to gain feedback from the public. These meetings will take place after the start of school in August. Suresh brought home the philosophical point: design is a feel; architecture is explaining why we feel that way.
|An assortment of tapestries and materials being considered|
as part of the design for Brackenridge HS.
Brackenridge will be getting major upgrades to its mechanical systems, along with new piping, plumbing and electrical systems. The architects say this will add many more years of longevity in the buildings. A lot of facade work will be done, natural lighting features will be added, and what’s really impressive is the different tapestries and materials - from artwork on the outside of the buildings to carpets, furniture and wall elements - that will be featured to match the vibrancy of San Antonio and the Southtown community where Brackenridge is located.
You might be wondering about the timeframe for all of this. After deciding the programming, which is all the different kinds of classes, clubs and other academic or extracurricular offerings the school provides, the architects then come up with the schematic design. This part of the design is what looks to me like a bunch of blocks. The architects will then send the design to the contractor to see if the design might fall in line with the budget of the project (even though many times the architects themselves have a pretty good idea of the cost). When it comes back to the architects, the phase called design development - which is where we are right now with Brackenridge - takes place. This is where the original design is refined, modified and the look continues to get updates.
|A photo of Brackenridge HS from 1919. Stantec architects want to|
celebrate this vision of Brackenridge HS with modern designs for
21st century learning.
The last bit of information I’ll give you, which I think is pretty important, is that the architects will have to meet with the city’s Historic Design Review Commission (HDRC). That’ll happen sometime in August. The reason for this is so that the HDRC can review the design to see how well it fits into the community. Brackenridge falls right on the cusp of the King William Historic District in what’s called the River Overlay District. As you may know, Brackenridge is the only high school in the city that’s located along the San Antonio River. The school itself is not classified as historic, but the city-based committee still requires getting a glance at the project. As the architects mentioned, it’s important to fit into the community. But, it’s also pertinent to make the school look current and modern in an era where technology is booming.