Artist and architect collaboration creates “red” home for contemporary art

Ruby City, designed by architect Sir David Adjaye Obe

I like to collaborate with artists that see space and structure as integral to their work. It involves a merging of skills and aesthetics to create something that has more potential than either discipline can achieve on its own.

Architect David Adjaye

That desire must have made Linda Pace (1945-2007) an ideal client for the architect of international renown, for the passionate collector of art was an artist herself. Writing for The Guardian just prior to the October 2019 opening of the Linda Pace Foundation’s Ruby City in San Antonio, Adjaye noted that Ruby City is an:

…example of how place and history are always important. Linda… had cancer and it had just become aggressive. She knew she was starting to go down. She became fascinated with dreams and their interpretation…. Then she drew this place she called Ruby City. Her drawing looks like a shining city on a hill or a Russian Orthodox church. For her it was a vessel, a hope…. a hope that her disappearance would have an impact.

I became fascinated by it. Red had become so important to her that I wanted to use that as a start point. From discussions we had, I looked at San Antonio and the missionaries who came to the region and the structures they built, the incredible monasteries. I also looked at pre-colonization America and Mesoamerican culture and their relationship to making architecture out of mud and raising these incredible citadels all over that part of Texas and New Mexico. The commonality for me between the monasteries and citadels is that they’re both about religion but also about death and communing with the afterlife – and they’re habitation spaces. Those ideas, mixed with her idea of the form, became an idea about architecture articulating light as a revealer of different facets of her art collection….

So the Ruby City building is about Linda, Texas and the collection.

Linda Pace left behind a collection of more 900 works of art in the hands of the foundation that bears her name. The immense collection will be displayed in rotating exhibitions in the new Ruby City and her former studio and Chris Park across the street. Entrance to the campus and galleries is admission-free.

For now, Ruby City addresses the back service vehicle parking lot of an inartistic branch of the United States Post Office, but that dismal view will be dramatically changed as part of Phase Two, now in the planning stages, of the San Pedro Creek Project.

San Pedro Creek Culture Park: Hideous drainage ditch now inviting urban space

In this place of herons where the grasses sway in starlight I have flowed since the dawn of evermore.

John Phillip Santos, historical text carved in limestone

The stretch of San Pedro Creek between the tunnel inlet at I-35 and Houston Street beside a new office tower climbing toward the sky might only be a little more than four blocks long, but the transformation from drainage ditch to park seems miraculous to me.

Yes, I watched the earlier magic worked on the Museum and Mission Reaches of the San Antonio River Improvements Project, but there was absolutely nothing natural-creek-like remaining following decades of flood-control projects in this neighborhood.

All that remained was a ditch. And then there was a dream. San Pedro Creek Culture Park.

Some dismiss projects like these as “legacy projects” fluffing up politicians’ egos with taxpayers’ dollars. Politically charged, the design process for a project this complex is rarely perfect. There are budget cuts, and still the enormous projects tend to run over-budget.

But, as with the original Paseo del Rio project, they can prove visionary. Development along the Museum Reach demonstrates how quickly highly blemished urban corridors become desirable.

While flood-control is an underlying purpose of the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project, the incorporation of site-specific art reflective of the city’s history and culture gives the new pedestrian passageway a distinctive San Antonio feel.

Bexar County is the primary funder of San Pedro Creek Culture Park, and the San Antonio River Authority is project manager.

looking south from Houston Street

Work is underway on the next phase heading southward from Houston Street. As you can see from the photo, this narrow stretch probably is even more challenging.

In my mind, the photos above illustrate that the complications and difficulties encountered along the way are so worth it. Those involved are leaving a legacy that will enrich the quality of urban life for generations to come. Looking forward to walking the next phase and those to come.