SA-based Overland Partners architects
garners TSA’s Firm of the Year award


San Antonio-based Overland Partners Architects, the firm that designed the architecturally acclaimed Texas A&M Bonfire Memorial under the direction of founding principal Robert Shemwell BED ’82, has been named 2010 Firm of the Year by the Texas Society of Architects.

In addition to Shemwell, the firm employs 12 Texas A&M College of Architecture graduates.

The Architecture Firm Award, the highest honor bestowed upon a Texas architecture practice, annually recognizes one firm in Texas that has consistently produced distinguished architecture in the state for at least 10 years and has contributed significantly to the profession and to the community.

“They epitomize all facets of the honor — making significant contributions to the profession and the community while creating some of the most distinguished architecture of our time and place. They have an office culture of giving that grows out of the strong moral and ethical backbones of the partners,” said 2010 TSA president Heather McKinney.

For more than two decades, Overland Partners has been fostering collaborative relationships and discovery processes that push architecture beyond aesthetics and shelter. With a mission “to influence the world through the practice of architecture,” the firm strives to use architecture as a medium for transformation.

“We believe that architecture is our means to a specific end. Our projects bring people back into a relationship with the land, their history and each other. We strive to make places that are both beautiful and profoundly useful. For us, a successful project is one where our clients see themselves and their personal vision reflected in the design,” said Overland Partners’ managing principal Robert Schmidt.

Since the firm’s first national commission, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, the power of its values-based design philosophy, as well as its commitment to rigorous research and critical thinking before the first sketch is drawn, has been evident. To achieve Lady Bird’s vision of the center “to look like God put it there,” Overland Partners invited botanists, horticulturists and landscape architects to collaborate on the design, ultimately creating a space that was considered in national architecture press as “the most provocative project of 1995.” More importantly to Overland Partners, it represented the passion and purpose of the former First Lady. After she lost her voice to a stroke, she once communicated through her assistant that the “buildings were now her voice.”

That first national commission not only transformed they way the City of Austin valued the use of natural landscape and sustainability in public places, but also led to a bevy of design awards and national exposure that validated the firm’s deliberate, collaborative, mission-driven approach. It ultimately helped establish the firm as more than just a team of great designers, but rather strategic advisors and problem solvers who bring together a collaborative team of outside experts to solve a community’s problems or to tell a client’s story in an impactful way.

More than 15 years and hundreds of successful projects later, Overland Partners has had the opportunity to extend their influence beyond Texas. In 2001, after a national search, Penn State University chose Overland to design a new school of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. Through Overland’s signature design process the resulting building helped propel the school, for the first time, into the Top Ten schools of architecture in the United States and was also the school’s first successful attempt in achieving LEED Gold certification.

Locally, Overland has impacted its own city with the design of two iconic buildings in San Antonio: the Clear Channel Communication Headquarters and the San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA). Designed for one of the largest and fastest growing companies in the nation, the Clear Channel Headquarters set a new precedent for architecture in San Antonio. With 11 projects at SAMA, Overland has been able to integrate modern functional design in a way that has enhanced the existing facility and made it an increasingly popular tourist attraction.

Most recently, Overland Partners has led task forces of community organizations, civic entities and design firms to design homeless assistance centers built on the premise of unlocking the collective power of many nonprofit groups, all with the goal of serving the city’s homeless population with dignity and respect. These homeless assistance centers, The Bridge in Dallas and Haven for Hope in San Antonio, have become international models for how cities can care for their needy. Since its opening in 2008, The Bridge has been honored by many prestigious national and international groups, including the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Housing Award, the AIA/HUD (Housing & Urban Development) Secretary Award and the 2010 international “[Re]Branding Homelessness” Award for Design given by South Africa-based GROUP.

“The Bridge and Haven for Hope demonstrate our philosophy that, through collaboration and purposeful planning, architecture can be a very powerful tool in helping communities come together to solve their most trying challenges,” said Schmidt.

See related stories on the Bonfire Memorial’s design and architectural accolades.


- Posted: Nov. 30, 2010 -

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Contact:   Phillip Rollfing, or 979.458.0442.


Click to enlarge image

See related stories on the Bonfire Memorial’s design and architectural accolades.

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