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ontrary to popular belief, as perpetuated by tourist brochures aplenty, there is more to San Antonio’s urban identity than the renowned RiverWalk and hallowed Alamo Plaza. Significant as these iconic settings are, especially when weighed for their economic benefits to Texas’ third largest city, the broader story of San Antonio’s heritage, traditions and, most importantly, her people is to be found in quarters beyond the shadows of high-rise downtown hotels. With a track record of more than three decades of shotgun tactics to seeding the Alamo City with compelling civic destinations, intended to entice visitors as well as natives to venture beyond the River’s edge, both public and private initiatives for the downtown’s commercial and social diversification are at long-last reaching maturity. Differing from the majority of American cities that have during the same three decades of urban revitalization tended to tightly choreograph the evolution of their cultural districts (comprised of museums, performance halls, schools of art, etc.), San Antonio has had a record of dispersing arts venues to the advantage of inviting greater participation by a larger cross-section of people who all have a stake in the community’s cultural relevance. Creating intellectually stimulating destinations such as museums, theaters, and the like is very difficult but highly rewarding work. Compounding the usual challenges (i.e., never having enough money, rarely being given the ideal site, and having to hold the hands of clients that attempt to accommodate too many opinions of what kind of artistic expressions deserve public scrutiny), the means of facilitating the arts is further burdened with the responsibility of having to be the dynamic place that “breathes new life” into a targeted area within a city. Museo Alameda (or Alameda Museum for the monolingual reader) in her inaugural year has indeed enlivened San Antonio’s downtown as the newly ordained epicenter of Latino arts within the festive El Mercado district located at the west end of the central city. As a carefully measured venture of gentrification within El Mercado’s informal context (known for its curio shops, street performers, and casual Tex-Mex restaurants), the Alameda’s development represents the promise of shifting attitudes about the interpretation of what art is and can be on behalf of traditionally underrepresented groups of Americans—this idea being explored within the realm of unconventional institutional architecture that acts to demystify the often foreboding corridors of high art.

Dramatic lighting in the evening accentuates the entry’s decorative stainless steel panels. (opposite page, clockwise from top left) Modernist-inspired steel entry frames the principal facade as viewed from Commerce Street looking west. The main gallery appears to hover between the highly polished concrete floor and ceiling planes. The warehouse-like upper level gallery owes its openness to graceful, long-span steel trusses. Purposefully overstuffed with merchandise, the gift shop is designed to appear as a Mexican-American botanica. The entry lobby is adjacent to the outdoor sculpture garden. The museum’s entry helps define El Mercado’s pedestrian plaza.

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Texas Architect March/April 2008: The Walkable City  

Texas Architect is the official publication of the Texas Society of Architects, each edition features recently completed projects and other...

Texas Architect March/April 2008: The Walkable City  

Texas Architect is the official publication of the Texas Society of Architects, each edition features recently completed projects and other...