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Discussing downtown’s evolution with Gensler San Antonio

We spoke with Michael Rey and Johnny Kousparis, co-managing directors of the architecture firm behind some of San Antonio’s development projects.

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Canopy by Hilton San Antonio Riverwalk

Peter Molick courtesy of Gensler

The Alamo Exhibition Hall and Collections Building, and the Say Si Community Arts Center. What do they have in common? They were all designed by architectural firm Gensler. The Canopy Hotel was also designed in partnership with Lake Flato and Mark Zeff designed the interiors.

The firm is working on several other projects that could revitalize downtown San Antonio, so we spoke with Co-Managing Directors Michael Rey and Johnny Kousparis about the company’s vision.

Let’s get into it.

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We spoke with Gensler San Antonio’s co-managing directors, Michael Rey and Johnny Kousparis

Graphic by SATXtoday team, photos provided by Gensler

Michael Rey brings 20 years of experience to Gensler with a Bachelor of Environmental Design from Texas A&M and a Master of Architecture from Yale University. He has lived in San Antonio for over 40 years and works mainly in the public realm focusing on institutional, civic, urban design, and commercial work.

Johnny Kousparis graduated from the University of Houston in 2005 with a Bachelor in Architecture. His background brings expertise across the industries of energy, science and technology, hospitality, critical facilities, and corporate office buildings.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

What is your approach when developing a new project?

Johnny: We always start with both a macro and micro approach, looking first at land usage, site context and amenities of a site while also looking at the micro human scale of employee workstation and space per person. We have to look at the balance between ‘how much space an individual person needs’ and ‘how much space we need for amenities and shared spaces.’

When designing buildings for San Antonio, how do you take into consideration the local community and culture?

Michael: We approach it at a client and community base first, because we don’t approach projects with a preconceived notion of what the design should be, what it should look like, what the aesthetic should be. We take in client and stakeholder feedback to create the initial vision.

So I think you could probably look at some projects and say, hey, that’s a Gensler project. But it’s not necessarily a singular design, design style, or aesthetic.

Johnny: Building on that, I’d say most most clients want a combination. They’re coming to us for a new building, and they want it to reflect their future. Typically it’s a blend between their perceived brand and community influence. It’s our role that we help facilitate that.

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Canopy by Hilton San Antonio Riverwalk

Ryan Conway courtesy of Gensler

Our city skyline has been slow to grow. Why do you think that might be?

Michael: I’ve lived in San Antonio since I was seven, and growth has been very slow. The momentum is picking up though. I’m grateful that we’re finally on the uptick, but we need to grow a lot faster. Our skyline needs more verticality, for sure.

Our central business district is one of the largest, if not the largest in the country. There’s a lot of space for both mixed scales once it’s all said and done because it’ll be an interesting downtown. Couple that with the historic preservation component and all the kind of recycling of old structures that we do in the city. We’re set up to do really amazing things in the future.

Johnny: I’ve only been here for two years now. I grew up most of my life in Houston. However, there’s a reverence and respect in this city for existing structures and wanting to preserve and improve rather than just tear down and make new.

Is Gensler more focused on downtown living or on outward development?

Michael: It’s twofold: We go wherever our clients take us, but as a firm we definitely have an interest in the downtown Central Business District. Being able to improve and revitalize downtown is something we’ve been talking about a lot internally, and many of our clients about the need to do more residential here.

We’re talking to multiple groups about office to residential conversions. That’s huge in every market, but especially in this city. I definitely think there’s a hyper-focus on downtown and the Broadway corridor leading into downtown as well.

In 2020, Gensler published an article about making San Antonio a 20-minute city. Do you think San Antonio will become that within the next 10 years?

Michael: Maybe 20.
Johnny: Yeah, maybe 20.
Michael: I think that’s a good thing, our slow growth, our steady economy has been a very good thing for our city because you don’t get the spikes and valleys. Thanks to Military City USA coupled with lots of higher education you just got such a mix here of different ideas and ideologies. It really turns into the best of what our city has to offer.