First Impression of San Antonio after being in London for 6 months
The two things I’ve noticed the most since spending 6 months in London and coming back to San Antonio is the concrete and the Pop-up architecture. Everything seems to be tilt-wall or CMU block or stick frame thrown up buildings. In half a year apartments have gone up and new businesses have already had their Grand Openings. There is so much concrete and asphalt EVERYWHERE. Parking lots separate the Highways from the big box stores. Parking lots that are usually only 1/4 full. Who actually thinks they’ll ever be 100% full? We drive down 2 lane roads with a turn lane between. That’s 60′-0″ of concrete and we see on both sides of the street sign after sign after sign and no trees, just street, sidewalk, parking lot, building. Where are all of the trees? I remember that lot before it was a Midas… it was full of trees! Why not leave some of them?
There’s so much Pop Up Architecture with their advertising and brand colors. I had a thought the other day while waiting at Discount Tire. The building itself isn’t so bad for a garage… but it’s not about the building. Every open piece of glazing had a sign in it advertising something. The building was colored red and white. I looked across the street and every business had it’s own sign, clashing with the next. You want it to clash, I guess, that way it stands out. Has advertising killed architecture? Is it destroying architectural design like ivy can destroy a brick wall? There’s just so much visual noise.
This isn’t anything new. It’s been like this for years, especially the past 10 years. Taco Bell, Bill Miller, Arby’s, Valero, Popeye’s, Cains, Del Taco, Bush’s Chicken, Dunkin Donuts, In and Out Burger, McDonalds and more… all on a corner. Each one has it’s own color and logo and “style” of design. There’s an architecture firm somewhere that designs those… some architect who came up with the distinct design for all Arby’s to be built like anywhere in the world. Is Arby’s International? I don’t know… Burger King is. KFC is. I saw those in London, but they were tucked into century old brick buildings with only a small sign on the building… nothing sticking out like a marquee at the movies.
When I think of London I think of narrow streets with 3-4 story tall buildings, brick or plaster faced, maybe some have stone. They’re all delicate and compliment or atleast have something in common with their neighbors. They’ve mostly all been there for a few hundred years and they’ll most likely be there in a hundred more. It saddens me to think about the style of San Antonio… concrete and Pop Up Architecture that will be torn down in a few decades to make way for something bigger because it’s cheaper to tear it down than to just plan for expansion now… or perhaps realize that we don’t actually need more. Because we don’t… need more. We have plenty already and if we do need more because more and more people are moving to San Antonio I sure do wish we were more classy about the way we built communities. It all just feels like the waxy paper wrapped around a drive thru burger… trash.
I know that this isn’t the fault of architects. It’s what the people want… and what they want… they get. Or what the developers build and the ad agencies tell us we all need… we get. It has left a bad taste in my mouth. In 50 years what will there be to look back on with pride? Hopefully more. Downtown is being rejuvenated. The Broadway corridor is underway… that area is already a happening place and will just keep growing. The inner loop of San Antonio will redevelop and flourish. Maybe it’ll just keep spreading. But I doubt it. Because there will always be another builder to throw up a subdivision and people will look at their homes with their fake columns and half stone facades and be proud. And maybe that’s ok because it really is better than the apartments they grew up in. To each their own.
But here’s hoping that the next generation will want to build on what is already here. To make use of what we have and improve on it instead of just leveling the lot and the trees and starting from scratch.