• The material palette of the new H. E. Butt Foundation satellite office combines the warmth of natural wood and stone with the refined precision of fabricated steel. - photo by Casey Dunn

One of Texas’s first charitable organizations settles into a new satellite office.

Project Sunset
Location San Antonio
Client H. E. Butt Foundation
Architect Card and Company Architects
Design Team Jonathan R. Card, AIA, Matt Burton, AIA
Contractor G.W. Mitchell Construction
Civil Engineer Pape-Dawson Engineers
Structural Engineer Datum Engineers
MEP Engineer Cleary Zimmermann Engineers
Building Envelope Consultant Acton Partners
Acoustics Dickensheets Design Associates
Interior Design Courtney + Company Design
Lighting Designer Studio Lumina
Landscape Architect Word + Carr Design Group
Steel Gate Artists Tanamachi Studio
Photographers Casey Dunn, Tim Hursley

When tuberculosis rendered her husband unable to work, Florence Butt opened a small grocery store in what was then the remote town of Kerrville. The tight-knight community supported her efforts, and she successfully ran the store for 15 years. Her son Howard E. Butt took over in 1919 and expanded the store into the H-E-B supermarket chain that today provides groceries to millions of Texans. Doing so made him quite wealthy, and in 1933 he and his wife, Mary Holdsworth, founded the H. E. Butt Foundation as one of the state’s first charitable organizations.

The foundation’s mission has evolved since then, but it has maintained a commitment to localized charity work that benefits the community. As the size of that community expanded, the decision was made to establish satellite foundation offices in San Antonio. A site was located whose trees and topography felt analogous to the organization’s two properties in the Hill Country even though it was only a few miles north of the Alamo. Originally occupied by a series of buildings selling terra-cotta pots and other “antiques,” the site’s unique characteristics revealed several challenges and opportunities for Card and Company, the architect hired in 2017 to develop the design of the new offices. 

“Our charge was to design a new expression of that ethic that would welcome and serve their neighbors in San Antonio,” said principal Jonathan Card, AIA.  He and his design team also worked to preserve the “legacy of hospitality” created by the foundation’s thoughtful and contextual architecture at its Kerrville and Frio River compounds. 

In addition to a 15-foot elevation rise between the front and back of the site, a number of large live oaks and groves of red oaks had grown between the existing buildings. The design sought to preserve these trees by strategically locating the new buildings within the approximate footprints of those earlier structures. Although a few ash and pecan trees ultimately had to be removed, they were incorporated into the design; local furniture maker Andy Rawls used their wood to create custom-made pieces located throughout the finished interior.

The building’s program can be divided roughly into two parts: offices for the foundation and meeting spaces for the public. For the latter, the client wanted the architecture to extend a welcoming gesture to the community—particularly to nonprofits using the facility. An undulating limestone wall greets visitors arriving from Sunset Road. Recalling the road cuts experienced when traveling to the foundation’s properties in the Hill Country,  its long stone expanse provides an appropriately monumental street presence while a broad, overhanging roof offers the promise of shade. After ascending either a stair or an accessible ramp that wraps around an impressive mature oak tree, the wall proves to be permeable: an open gate, designed by artist Dana Tanamachi, provides access to a porch-like covered outdoor lobby. This convening breezeway provides access to the flexible meeting spaces the foundation makes available for use by community organizations. The breezeway itself can also be used as a large event space as it opens onto the broad lawn of a courtyard to accommodate even larger events. Toward the rear of the site, a raised outdoor terrace sits beyond a linear fountain and is designed to support a future office addition.

Facilities dedicated to the operation of the foundation itself are housed in a timber-framed gabled structure running the length of the property’s western edge. A series of roof monitors, clerestories, and pocket courtyards illuminate the interior while protecting it from the incursion of the harsh afternoon sun. Executive offices are pushed toward the street and are separated from additional offices by a reception area that can also serve the courtyard during large events. A system of demountable partitions allows these offices to be rearranged in the future while the adjacent open office area has already been reconfigured to house cubicles to better provide physical separation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The project’s overall palette combines the warmth of rustic natural materials with the refined precision of manufactured products. The wood panels of the roof deck, for example, imbue the larger public spaces with a warm, natural glow even as they are, in fact, high-performance perforated acoustical panels that absorb sound reverberations from the office below. Other details reference—and in some cases incorporate materials from—the Laity Lodge the foundation operates in the Hill Country. Additional materials, including terra-cotta urns, brick pavers, and stone walls, were salvaged from what was left over from the antique store that previously occupied the site. 

Although it is a new facility, the H. E. Butt Foundation satellite office feels rooted to its place and connected to the history of the organization it houses. It reflects its legacy of hospitality while connecting this new urban site to the foundation’s remote roots. Like the organization’s facilities in the Hill Country, it purposely blurs the boundaries between indoors and outdoors, public and private, accumulated wealth and community engagement.

Brantley Hightower, AIA, is the founding partner of HiWorks in San Antonio and the former interim editor of Texas Architect.

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