Last November, Overland began design for its third installation built for the San Antonio Botanical Garden in partnership with AIA San Antonio. Storybook Houses, the fourth collaboration between the Garden and area architects and designers, is the theme for this year’s spring exhibit, which will be on display March 5 – July 10 at the SA Botanical Gardens. (Read about the Gourd, Overland’s previous installation for the Garden, here.)
Finding Purpose in an Act of Service
Overland’s design, entitled San Antonio and the Beanstalk, is inspired, of course, by the fairytale classic, “Jack and the Beanstalk.” But it asks us to consider an alternative narrative:
In the storybook classic “Jack and the Beanstalk,” we are usually told the story of Jack. But what if, instead, the beanstalk were the hero? It might go something like this: A young seed travelled in the pocket of an old man until it found its way into the hands of a boy. Then something amazing happened. Rather than being stuffed away in another pocket, or a drawer, the seed was finally sown where it belonged. The warmth and nourishment of the earth willed it to grow. And grow it did. But it didn’t know why until the boy returned. The Beanstalk enabled Jack to ascend into the clouds, return with gold, and lift his family out of poverty. Because it was well planted, it gave Jack a steady grip along his voyage, and it was in this act of service that the Beanstalk found its purpose.
I sat down with a few members of the design team — Lucas Mackey, Marcel Van der Maas, and Ben Parker — to learn more about the origins of the concept and the design process to date.
How did the concept for Jack and the Beanstalk come about?
Lucas: We wanted to create something fitting for the Botanical Garden that related to their mission. There are two aspects to it — the beanstalk and the cloud — and we thought it would be interesting to explore and resolve this relationship.
Ben: Essentially, we believed the concept had a strong potential to express a mission that focuses on sustainability and plant life while potentially creating a unique architectural outcome. This story reflects a broader narrative about care for the earth. By considering the life cycle of the beanstalk, its origins and endings as well as its time in the spotlight, we are building this vision of a sustainable future. Many of the materials are reused from the Luminaria installation, and at the end of the Storybook House exhibit, the beanstalk will be permanently housed at a community garden in East San Antonio.
What has the design process been like?
Lucas: The design is different now from what we originally submitted to the garden. It was a little bit tricky at the beginning to get everybody on board with some of the changes. The Botanical Garden in particular was nervous about the ribbons in the new design. They weren’t sure they were going to work. We were committed to trying it, so we made a mockup of it and invited them to the office to present it again. Luckily, they bought into it the second time .
There have been about six of us in the office working on it off and on. Originally we had a few office-wide pin ups to get feedback on what needed to be done in terms of the overall direction of the project.
Marcel: I think that also inspired the big change.
Lucas: Some people thought the cloud needed to be elevated off the ground and not be resting directly on the ground like it originally was. That was a big driver for the design change. And then that affected the way we thought about the beanstalk and how we could design it to support the cloud but also stand alone.
Have there been any surprising challenges in the project?
Marcel: Not yet. We still have to hear back from the contractor, but so far there have been no big surprises. It’s been an interesting journey so far. We’ve never done anything like this before.
Ben: From a slightly outside perspective, the two of you being quite early on in an architectural career have been very effective at mining for knowledge — knowing that you don’t know everything and going to find people who are willing to provide you information and teach you. It’s been very effective and cool to watch.
Lucas: That has definitely been our attitude from the beginning. We knew we didn’t know everything and that if we tried to do it on our own it wouldn’t be as successful. I think the best part of reaching out to people in the office is that they’ve really encouraged us to think beyond our original ideas and how they could be done better. Initially I was thinking really safely — that we couldn’t have a cantilever because it was too crazy. But then we realized, oh no, absolutely do that. Design exactly what you want until someone tells you can’t instead of assuming that you can’t.
Left to right: Marcel Van der Maas, Lucas Mackey, and Ben Parker