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2013 Award of Merit - Unity Plaza at Public Safety Headquarters
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Project Category: Institutional

Project Name: Unity Plaza at Public Safety Headquarters

Project Location: 210 Santa Rosa Street, San Antonio, Florida, 32827

Date of Completion: 2012

Landscape Architect:  Max Spann, ASLA, studio JEFRË


Landscape Architect of Record:  David Bury, ASLA, Saenz Bury Engineering 

Owner: City of San Antonio, Department for Culture and Creative Development 

Landscape Contractor: studio JEFRË

Project celebrates local public service men and women, "Protectors of the Grid”

Site Context

The principle vision behind Unity Plaza was to represent the historic uniting of two oldest public safety departments in Texas, San Antonio Police Department and San Antonio Fire Department around a central plaza. The future developments of the surrounding blocks include a future Federal and County Courthouse and supporting governmental agencies. After several workshops and stakeholder meetings it was evident that the project would serve as a central unifying space for the creation of new government district in downtown San Antonio.


In keeping with San Antonio’s reputation as a model city for America, the concept was to create an inspired place-making project where art and urban design transform the entrance to the City’s Public Safety Headquarters into a place that stands for honor, respect and enduring appreciation of the community and the public service men and women who "protect the grid” every day. 

The first of three main plaza components is an 18,000 square foot mosaic map of San Antonio, created using GPS coordinates to build a scale map using natural stones that cover the plaza’s walkways, seating walls and planting beds. The largest mosaic map in the world, it delineates the city down to the San Antonio River, as well as major roadways and interstates. After dark, built-in traffic controlled lighting strips illuminate the network of interstate highways and light the plaza map, creating remarkable views from above. 18”, landscape planters composed of xeric plant materials were extruded and formed into the shapes of the corresponding street blocks that also served as force protection for the government facility.

"After visiting numerous police and fire stations it was quite evident that the map of city was a common image seen on the walls and computer screens,” said the designer. "it was immediately clear that they were the protectors of the grid that became the genesis of the entire design.” 

The second element in the plaza, the beacon tower, reaches almost 70 feet at its highest point. The all-white tower consists of eleven steel beams that extend upward from the ground map streets and become united at their apex as a metaphorical beacon of light into the sky. The only permanent light sculpture in the U.S., the beam of light will extend two miles high. The tower’s spotlights can be programmed from all white to red or blue, which depending on the program, may be used to honor San Antonio’s police officers and firefighters during special observances. During the ceremony, children of the fallen wrote personal messages on stones that were then placed into the light wells that projected the beam into the night sky. This new landmark is intended to serve as an important gateway for downtown’s southwest extension and delineates the axis point of the Public Safety Headquarters and new Federal Courthouse site. 

The third component is a passive garden along composed of large existing oak trees, bench boulders and two 16’ tall sculptures that depict a police officer and a firefighter using cast shadows and sunlight, are located at the northern landscaped edge of the plaza near Nueva. 

The landscape installation was coordinated and managed by the landscape architect using local students and labor forces. The landscape architect was responsible for the design, management and fabrication of all the landscape, hardscape and sculptural elements and coordinated with local staff, contractors, consultants and family members to provide a memorial space designed and built by the people of San Antonio. 

"With this bold civic project, we are honoring our brave emergency responders with a visible landmark that is both inspiring and accessible to the public.”--said Mayor Julián Castro. 


Mayor Castro: City of San Antonio

 Fundraising: Jennifer Morgan, Alamo Area Fire & Police Memorial Group

 General Contractor: Express Contracting

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MISSION STATEMENT Leading, educating, and participating in the careful stewardship, wise planning, and artful design of our cultural and natural environments.