San Antonio River Authority and the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Design by Houston Firm METALAB Wins
San Antonio’s River Barge Design Competition

SAN ANTONIO (April 1, 2016) – San Antonio’s International River Barge Design Competition concluded today as the City of San Antonio and the San Antonio chapter of The American Institute of Architects (AIA San Antonio) announced the competition winner. Houston firm METALAB designed the winning proposal for an innovative electric barge able to accommodate barge tours, dining cruises, and river parades, as well as provide a transportation option for residents to commute on the San Antonio River. The second place design came from Luna Architecture + Design from San Antonio with Lay Pittman & Associates from Neptune Beach, FL. Third place was Sadi Brewton + Jonathan Davies from Austin.

METALAB’s versatile design allows for modular deck components that can accommodate a variety of uses. The single-level deck design also allows for greater wheelchair accessibility with adjacent companion seating. The durability of materials will require minimal ongoing maintenance and the decorative railings are inspired by Papel Picado patterns and a San Antonio color palette. The railings pitch slightly outward, enhancing passenger comfort and increasing capacity and legroom.

“The San Antonio River Walk is one of our city’s most distinguishing features and is among the highest rated tourist attractions in the state of Texas,” said Mayor Ivy R. Taylor. “As San Antonio prepares to celebrate its 300th anniversary in 2018, City leaders wanted to re-imagine the river barge experience. METALAB’s winning design is bold, innovative, and reflects the character of our progressive and growing city.”

The distinguished panel of 11 jurors included internationally-recognized architects and engineers as well as local community leaders, artists, hospitality industry representatives, and designers providing technical to artistic input. The first phase of the design competition drew proposals from 12 teams across the nation. The Jury selected the top three proposals based on design innovation, functionality, operational considerations, constructability, and sensitivity to San Antonio’s culture. The three finalists each received $7,500 to further develop their design concepts in the second phase of the competition made possible with support from the San Antonio River Authority.

The finalists showcased their designs at a public open house on March 28, where community members viewed the proposals, met the teams, and provided feedback on the designs. Each of the three finalists received a cash prize, but only METALAB will be recommended to City Council to see its design constructed and on the San Antonio River in 2018.

“The current river barge design was created for HemisFair ’68 to offer visitors rides up and down the length of the river,” said Roberto C. Treviño, District 1 City Councilman and architect. “METALAB’s design is modular, modern, and offers the possibility for barge uses we couldn’t have imagined before. This not only presents a great option for tourists, but is an opportunity for residents and the local entrepreneurial community to propose new and imaginative ways to use the river barges.”

“We are impressed with the caliber of responses and appreciate each team’s dedication to the competition evidenced in their innovative design concepts,” said Christine Viña, AIA San Antonio President. “AIA San Antonio looks forward to future opportunities to partner with the City of San Antonio in this creative approach to addressing design issues in our city.”

In late April, City staff will present the winning barge design to City Council with a recommendation to work with METALAB to build the design concept.  A test barge will be in operation in early 2017 to ensure the design is functional for the River Walk.  The City will issue two Requests for Proposal (RFP) for procurement and construction of the barge fleet as well as for the new fleet’s operation and programming.  Both solicitations are anticipated to be released in May 2016.

To learn more about the San Antonio River Barge Design Competition, visit To view / download more images of METALAB’s design renderings, visit

One San Antonio

Diverse, internationally connected and globally competitive, San Antonio has a vibrant culture and economy and is consistently ranked among the fastest-growing cities in the United States. America’s seventh-largest city offers opportunities in industries ranging from bioscience, financial services, aerospace, cybersecurity, energy and transportation manufacturing to healthcare. We are “Military City USA,” home to crucial military commands supported by a patriotic citizenry. We welcome 31 million visitors annually who inject $13.4 billion annually into our economy, and UNESCO recently designated the city’s Spanish colonial missions as a World Heritage Site. Celebrating its 300th anniversary in 2018, San Antonio is a city with a storied past and an even brighter future. For more information, visit

image2San Antonio’s upcoming 300th anniversary in 2018 has inspired the City of San Antonio to re-imagine the ‘river barge’ experience as a quality transportation option with a newly designed, more sustainable and modular fleet using innovative technology to meet the needs of both tourists and residents.

The City is partnering with The American Institute of Architects, San Antonio Chapter (AIA San Antonio) to implement an international design competition to create redesigned river barges to be used on the San Antonio River. The competition will open Friday, Oct. 30 to local, national and international teams for innovative designs representative of a world-class city such as San Antonio.


Cash prizes will be awarded to the top three finalist teams in the amounts of $20,000 for first place, $10,000 for second place, and $5,000 for third place. The selected team will be awarded a professional services contract with the City of San Antonio.


The City of San Antonio is the seventh largest city in the United States. A large city with a small town feel, San Antonio’s fabled River Walk is one of its distinguishing features. Designed by architect Robert H. H. Hugman, AIA in the late 1930s into the early 1940s, the River Walk is one of the highest rated tourist attractions in the State of Texas.

Since its earliest beginnings, the River Walk has been navigated by small watercraft. Hugman’s bridge designs were tall enough to allow Venetian gondolas to float underneath. When San Antonio celebrated its 250th Birthday during HemisFair ’68, flat bottomed barges offered visitors rides up and down the length of the river. These river barges continue to be used today for tourist cruises, river taxis and dinner barge excursions and have a combined annual ridership of 1.5 million.

In 2018, San Antonio will celebrate its 300th Anniversary. This occasion prompts a desire by the City’s elected leaders to re-imagine the ‘river barge’ experience, with a newly designed, more sustainable, modular fleet, using innovative technology, that can respond to the needs of both tourists and residents. The river barge experience must provide residents a transportation option for daily commutes, while also serving the needs of the millions who visit our city every year, with a quality visitor experience.

AIA San Antonio, in partnership with the City of San Antonio, seeks an innovative, visionary approach to the 2151 century watercraft experience on the San Antonio River. The design solution should support a ridership that includes tourists, residents, and daily commuters, and responds to the competition goals listed below:

  • All-electric fleet
  • Innovative new materials
  • Modularity for boats in a variety of sizes and uses
    – Accommodations for commuters and tourists
    – Accommodations for tours that can seat at least 35
    – Accommodations for dining and other events
  • ADA Accommodations
  • Opportunity for sun shading innovation
  • Can traverse through the lock with a size no larger than 9 ft by 28 ft
  • Safe ride with minimal wake
  • Complimentary of City of San Antonio’s branding

Design Challenge

Competition Documents

News Release

News Release

Competition Document

Pre-Submittal Meeting Minutes + Attendees 11182015

Pre-Submittal Meeting Minutes + Attendees 01082016

Competition Jurors

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