University of Texas at San Antonio undergrads Isaias Garcia Coronado and Daniel Rodriguez Suarez have been honored by the AIA Committee on the Environment for their project proposal, “Banding for Knowledge.” Selected as one of the winners in the 2015-2016 Top Ten for Students Design Competition, their project re-envisions the use of an abandoned big box store in San Antonio. Their work is on view at the AIA Annual Convention this week in Philadelphia.
“Banding for Knowledge” proposes transforming an abandoned Walmart into a library with plentiful green space and the opportunity to educate the community about sustainability. The project is presented as a kind of template for other cities with abandoned big box stores — in 2016 alone, 269 Walmarts are expected to close. The project has a strong focus on adaptive reuse, changing the existing structure to meet the needs of the community. The big box space is transformed by shrinking the building’s thermal envelope from 42,000 square feet to 31,000 square feet and by the addition of “rhythmic landscape elements” inscribed in the big box to open it to the environment.
Suarez says, “When we went to the site and we just saw a big box and the typical huge parking lot, we were pretty excited about what we could do to enhance the neighborhood, creating a linear park that you could see yourself in… That was inspiring.” The repurposed area becomes a space for the community at a lower cost, both financially and to the environment, than new construction.
The partnership between the two students started at the beginning of a semester’s design course, when the professor gave students the choice to work alone or with another person. “I had always wanted to work with someone else,” described Coronado. “You always learn more from working with other people.” Coronado, whose architectural education began at the community college level after his wife encouraged him in his studies, recently graduated. He intends to work in the field for a few years before returning for his masters in architecture. Suarez, in his third year at UTSA, intends to graduate and eventually study for a masters in architecture or urban planning. Both are from Mexico. From the start, both say they worked so well together, setting aside all preconceived notions and working from a neutral perspective, that they knew they were destined for success. When Coronado learned they had won, he called Suarez, who was in Mexico. “Hey partner,” he said. “Have you checked your email?” The rest is history.