We Are Still In – Countering Climate Change

SYNCRO Architecture Studio works closely with clients to bring energy-efficient solutions to their projects. The design process is inherently a sustainable action, or should be, because it requires consideration of alternatives and their consequences. SYNCRO works hard to provide analysis of sustainable alternatives. Today we show support of all efforts to counter climate change by signing on to an Open letter to the international community along with hundreds of other U.S. businesses, universities, cities and state leaders. From the letter:

In December 2015 in Paris, world leaders signed the first global commitment to fight climate change. The landmark agreement succeeded where past attempts failed because it allowed each country to set its own emission reduction targets and adopt its own strategies for reaching them. In addition, nations – inspired by the actions of local and regional governments, along with businesses – came to recognize that fighting climate change brings significant economic and public health benefits.

We commend San Antonio’s new mayor, Ron Nierenberg, and his leadership toward our City’s official support of the Paris Climate Accord. As a member firm of the American Institute of Architects, we are proud of the work done by AIA Committee on the Environment and its Advisory Group which continues to play an important “role in carbon drawdown through the design, construction, and operations of the built environment….”

Source: We Are Still In


Pawderosa Ranch Announces Dog Daycare Project



Pawderosa Ranch, “The Best Dog Daycare and Overnight Lodging in San Antonio,” has announced the project we have been designing here at SYNCRO Architecture Studio. Initially, we conducted a feasibility study to determine the site’s redevelopment potential and have subsequently completed rezoning, re-platting and zoning variance request services. We are currently in design development phase.

An existing “ranch” theme provides rustic inspiration for a regional contemporary architectural solution. Sustainable design is part of the client’s home-away-from-home-for-your-dog business formula. Western Red Cedar, epoxy flooring, log struts and digitally designed and fabricated steel plate connectors and decorative fencing are working together to bring high-tech and low-tech together into a functional fusion. High-performing, low-maintenance, and sanitary surfaces are being developed by the design team for seamless integration in the design concept.


Changes to prevent hasty demolitions – San Antonio Express-News

Photograph by ALMA E. HERNANDEZ

Volunteers, David Bogle, Doug Smolka and Jean Mothri help clean out Miguel Calzada’s home Saturday, Dec. 13, 2014, in preparation for renovations. City Councilman Roberto Treviño said he wants the city’s building demolition process to include more of a “human side,” to protect seniors, veterans and chronically ill homeowners from demolition of older, potentially historic houses.


‘Architecture is now a tool of capital, complicit in a purpose antithetical to its social mission’ – Architectural Review

Waterwijk housing, designed by OMA integrates multiple housing types aimed at various income levels.

Waterwijk housing, designed by OMA integrates multiple housing types aimed at various income levels.

With each announcement of a new “luxury” apartment development along the Mission Reach, or in the low-density pockets around downtown San Antonio I look beyond the images and lists of amenities in the advertisements to find little distinguishing it from the speculative houses and apartments being built for more “affordable” markets. Is the architectural form, material or design quality more enduring or, rather, merely more endearing? I am reminded of the linked article I read few months ago. While I have learned a little something about the economics of cities over the years – about the commodification of our cities and the ability of the relatively few real estate interests to powerfully affect how cities grow and redevelop, I was struck by some of the economic ideas and connections cited. The author, Reinier de Graaf, casts a bright light and a long shadow on architecture and the division of wealth in this essay. Specifically, he looks at architecture in the context of Thomas Piketty’s economic analysis from Capital in the Twenty-First Century which postulates that “inequality is not an accident, but rather a feature of capitalism, and can only be reversed through state interventionism.” Put very simply, wealth itself is far more efficient at producing more wealth than good-ole hard work, or, from the article, “Those who acquire wealth through work fall ever further behind those who accumulate wealth simply by owning it.” While it has been clear to me in the past how architectural production itself can play a role in the continuing trend of income inequality, the idea that there is no alternative is disconcerting.

….it becomes relatively easy to dissociate a (high) selling price from a (low) cost base and reap record profits as a result.Ironically, this development affects both rich and poor. With sale values exceeding production costs to the current extent, quality no longer resides in the product, but in a potential profit through selling. The whole notion of physical luxury is superseded by a value on paper. However, the value on paper in no way represents the real material value of the product. The price of property is created by a combination of size and location. Unless major technical flaws come to light, the material or technical quality of buildings barely plays a role. As long as the hype continues, the ‘investment’ is safe.

This shows some of San Antonio's inner-city neighborhoods relative density mapped by zip code.

This shows some of San Antonio’s inner-city neighborhoods relative density mapped by zip code.


Treasure Hill Residence – Part 3 – “a moment becomes a movement”

Press release announcing proposed changes to city's demolition procedures.  Councilman Roberto Treviño proposes changes to the city's code enforcement procedures and policy to reduce demolitions of buildings like this historic home.

Press release announcing proposed changes to city’s demolition procedures. Councilman Roberto Treviño proposes changes to the city’s code enforcement procedures and policy to reduce demolitions of buildings like this historic home.

The community effort to save this Treasure Hill residence from demolition (#SaveMiguelsHouse) has inspired our city council representative to propose changes to the City of San Antonio policies and processes. The changes are intended to slow the enforcement process for long-time residents, veterans and the elderly, and reduce demolitions. Additionally, it could lead to better-educated Building Standards Board members that participate in code enforcement procedures. A press conference was held at the house to announce the proposed changes, and I would like to thank Councilman Roberto Treviño for his work on behalf of our client’s case. Thanks also go to Vianna Davila of the Express-News and Page Graham of the Rivard report for their coverage of this continuing story. See links in the right-hand column on this page.

Another exciting development is that we filed an application for landmark designation of the house on the same day. Here’s some of the history we found for this prominent site overlooking the San Pedro Springs and downtown San Antonio.

• (February 2, 1906)
Treasure Hill Plat filed for record, owned and subdivided by Adams, Kirkpatrick, and Nicholson (J.E. Adams, J.H. Kirkpatrick, and B.F. Nicholson). Includes Lot 21, Block 1, N.C.B. 3030 (now 1123 W. French Pl.). Nicholson releases several properties within plat to Adams and Kirkpatrick. However, Lot 21, Block 1 is not mentioned in these deeds.

• (1907)
Various properties within N.C.B. 3030, including Lot 18, Block 1, (now 1135 W. French), sold by B.F. Nicholson to one T.E. Hawkins. Deed for Lot 21, Block 1 not found.

• (1908-1911)
Various properties within N.C.B. 3030, again including Lot 18, Block 1, (now 1135 W. French), sold by T.E. Hawkins and wife G.L. to one G.B. Hawkins. Deed for Lot 21, Block 1 not found.

• (March 21, 1912)
Ten properties, including Lots 18 and 21 of Block 1, N.C.B. 3030, sold by G.B. Mitchell and wife L.E. to one J.S. McNeel, (James), a prominent real estate figure in town at the time. The following year’s directory lists the house at 1123 W. French Pl. as owned by J.S. and Emma McNeel.

• (1916)
A widowed Emma McNeel, wife of J.S. Sr., retains ownership of 1123 W. French Pl.

• (1922-1923)
The house at 1123 W. French is listed as owned by William P McNeel, City Fire Marshall and son of J.S. Sr. One Kathryn McNeel is also listed as an owner, and is assumed to be his wife. Emma McNeel is listed as a renter at this time.

• (1924-1930)
1123 W. French is listed as owned by Frank and Angelina Liberto. Frank is president of Frank Liberto & Co., a wholesale grocer and roaster of peanuts and coffee.

• (1931-1937)
Home owned by Andrew and Stella Mae Dilworth. Andrew Dilworth is a partner of Thomson, Dilworth, and Marshall Title and Trust, and is vice president of Union Title & Trust Co.

• (1938-1939)
The house at 1123 W. French is rented to one Marion A Olson and wife Martha. Marion is a lawyer at the Frost National Bank Building.

• (1940-1947)
1123 W. French is rented once again by Orvis E Meador and wife Mildred. Orvis works as a dentist in the Nix Professional Building.

• (1948-1958)
In 1948 William J Lytle is listed as owner of the house at 1123 W. French Pl. At that time, one Hortense E is also listed at said property. In 1958 one Mrs. Susan Lytle, named widow of William J, is listed as owner of the house.

• (1959)
The house at 1123 W. French Pl. is listed as vacant for the first time since its plat.

• (1960-1966)
Solomon Sfair and wife Hasna are listed as owners of 1123 W. French. There is little occupational information regarding Solomon Sfair listed in the respective city directories. According to Miguel Calzada, current owner, the Sfair family owned the “Navy Club” downtown San Antonio, a 24-hour club of some notoriety.

• (1967-
Vincente and Francisca Calzada are listed as renters of the home. Later in 1970, Miguel and Guadalupe’s names are included in the directory.


Treasure Hill Residence – Part 2

Treasure Hill Residence workday gathering.  December 13, 2014.

Treasure Hill Residence workday gathering. December 13, 2014.

This week, more news coverage of the neighborhood effort to Save Miguel’s House (see Part 1) came out in theRivardReport (online) and in the San Antonio Express-News. It centered around the volunteer work day organized by Bob Comeaux, and it was nicely covered by two neighbors, authors Jessica Belasco in the San Antonio Express-News article and Page Graham of The Rivard Report in #SaveMiguelsHome – The Work Begins. The work day was a success thanks to approximately 50 persons who came to help.

Click here for the Express-News article on SYNCROSTUDIO which appeared on the front page of Monday’s paper (in case you don’t have a subscription to read it at The Express-News website.)

1906 Treasure Hill Plat

1906 Treasure Hill Plat

We’re calling this project Treasure Hill Residence, after the original name of the subdivision created in 1906. Legend had it the early Spanish explorers hid treasure here, but the name has been overshadowed by “Beacon Hill” which abuts this property on the north and is the current name for the whole neighborhood. The elusive treasure, however, is being mined today in the trove of neighbors and folks from all over the city generously donating to the cause. E-mail Bob Comeaux at bobtheunionguy “at” aol “dot” com if you want to find out more about how you can help.

Detail of 1911 map showing Treasure Hill Residence and outbuildings.

Detail of 1911 Sanborn map showing Treasure Hill Residence and outbuildings near Blanco City Road.


The Human Face of Gentrification

Contemplating the possibilities if he could move back into his home of 50 years.

Contemplating the possibilities if he could move back into his home of 50 years.

Thanks to Page Graham at the Rivard Report for covering this story and using my photographs. This spacious, one-story home has stood here on “Treasure Hill” since prior to 1911 overlooking the San Pedro Springs Park valley and downtown San Antonio beyond from its south east facing front porch. We were asked by neighbor Bob Comeaux to help the owner, pro bono, to determine if it can be saved from demolition. After a quick walk-through it was obvious to me and our team that there could be no good reason to tear this virtually all-original house down.
100 year old house in need of repairs.  View of the front from the southeast.

100 year old house in need of repairs. View of the front from the southeast.

I am looking forward to working on design of the selective renovation soon. Currently, we’ve just completed the Repair Scope of Work developed with the assistance of our structural engineering consultant, Patrick Sparks, P.E., of Sparks Engineering Incorporated.
Interior of the front room, south east corner.  This is where everyone slept in the summer time, before air conditioning.

Interior of the front room, south east corner. This is where everyone slept in the summer time, before air conditioning.

Fundraising is underway, and the greatest news of today is that Donna Bertolacci, of D.B. Home Repair completed her proposal for the repairs and is donating her time, overhead and profit! A very generous proposition from a great homebuilder and her team who I just had the pleasure of working with on the Olmos Park Residence. Please contact Bob Comeaux,, if you can contribute.

Comeaux sums up the situation best by saying, “How can we help the Miguels of the world, as opposed to tearing down their houses?”

Looks like that is what we’re figuring out. How to filter the gentrification process so it allows residents stability if they want it, and mobility if that’s their choice.

More on this story in Treasure Hill Residence – Part 2.

via Save Miguel's Home: The Human Face of Gentrification by Page Graham for the Rivard Report.


HemisFair art projects are kid-size

San Antonio Express-News article image:  Hemisfair Art projects are kid-sized

San Antonio Express-News article image: Hemisfair Art projects are kid-sized

The “Yanaguanna Gardens” (a working title for what was first called “play escape”) was covered in the Express-News regarding the civic art being planned for this phase of the redevelopment of San Antonio’s 1968 Hemisfair Park. They also mentioned that Karen Mahaffy, one of the artists, consulted me on her art project; though they did not illustrate with her art proposal. I wrote a little bit about collaborating with Karen and with artist Jen Koshbin for her piece at the planned Yanaguanna Gardens in this post.

Mahaffy studied archival photographs of the homes located in the area and worked with architect David Bogle to create accurate proportions. In addition to the perforated side walls, the playhouse will feature a cutout porch and roof inspired by the leafy canopy of pecan trees.

Click here to read the full article on


Sculptural Skins – Digital Fabrication

Digital fabrication comes into its own for creating precisely crafted, complex building envelopes, even on larger projects.

digital fabrication of sculptural skins

Photo: Tonatiuh Ambrosetti © Bundesamt für Bauten und Logistik BBL

This article from Arch Record brings to light a trend of more, larger building projects utilizing digitally fabricated sculptural skins, or components for their building envelopes.

“These building skins are proving that the process can be a highly efficient and cost-effective option when translating complex computer-derived forms into well-executed, precision-built structures that can be produced locally.”


Civic Art – Design Optimization Consulting

Artist Karen Mahaffy is one of several artists commissioned by Public Art San Antonio (PASA) to create civic art works for the Hemisfair Yanaguana Gardens (formerly Play Escape). David Bogle, of SYNCRO, is collaborating with and assisting Mahaffy and another of the artists with their projects by providing informal critiques as well as design optimization services.

Mahaffy has been inspired by the site’s history for her project. Once a prosperous neighborhood on the edge of downtown with a wide variety of homes, the area was targeted for “urban renewal” and became the site for the 1968 Hemisfair. Widely expected to become a downtown university campus by planners of the original Hemisfair Park, it has remained underutilized and largely derelict for most of the four decades since. Mahaffy is seizing her opportunity to tell some of this history through a re-creation of a house that was razed on this site for the 1968 Hemisfair. A diminutive, transparent structure will suggest the lost neighborhood of humble homes.

From historic Sanborn maps, newspaper articles and photographic documentation, a number of specific houses that were razed have been analyzed by the artist for information and inspiration. Mahaffy often works with paper and historic decorative patterns. For this project, damask patterns that were popular at the time of the historic homes construction are being explored for use on the walls.

SYNCRO proposed for this project a workflow of digital design and digital fabrication techniques to optimize the transfer of the artist’s patterns into custom-patterned perforated metal panel roofs and walls. SYNCRO was commissioned by the artist for schematic phase design services intended to provide confidence that the scope, budget and material qualities align with each other to ensure a successful outcome.

Design optimization consulting is provided to assist artists with development of their concept toward appropriate material and fabrication technologies. Consulting services can encompass ergonomics, public space design, universal (accessible) design, cost considerations, material sciences, weathering, finishes and structural design. Bringing fabrication technology and construction knowledge into a project early will not only support an artist’s design concept, but will enhance the design process with the confidence that the budget, scope and quality are aligned for a successful project.

Civic Art Project by Artist Karen Mahaffy
Design / Completion: 2014 / 2015
Yanaguana Gardens, Hemisfair Park
San Antonio, Texas