It’s been nearly 100 years since the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, the world’s fair celebrating the opening of the Panama Canal, was held in San Diego. In preparation for the centennial, AIA San Diego and the San Diego Museum of Art recently held an ideas competition for improvements to Balboa Park, the site of the fair. The 1,200-acre park is home to a number of museums and other cultural facilities, including the San Diego Air & Space Museum, the San Diego Art Institute, the San Diego Natural History Museum, and the San Diego Museum of Art, plus cultivated gardens and family-friendly amusements.
The Balboa Park Centennial Gateway Competition received 44 entries from both professional and non-professional designers. The jury met December 7th to award five merit prizes and two top-place awards. “Overall, the jury was impressed by the quality of the presentations and the renderings and grateful for the time and effort expended on their preparation,” an AIA San Diego press release stated.
The five entries earning special recognition from the jury included two transit-oriented designs. A submission from San Diego Historic Streetcars showcased that organization’s ongoing efforts to bring streetcars back to the city, while a team from Place Architecture proposed an elevated tramway connecting Balboa Park to the waterfront and Petco Park. The three other merit-award winners were “P.R.A.D.O,” from Di Donato Associates; “Balboa Park Experience,” from NewSchool of Architecture + Design, and “Soaring Above,” from a team led by Jonathan Chau.
In a modern take on City Beautiful logic, “P.R.A.D.O.” features a series of architectural monuments placed throughout the park, with a covered pedestrian walkway along its eastern edge framing views of the city beyond. “Balboa Park Experience,” which the press release called a “surprising green solution,” threads a linear park under and around the freeway entrance to the south end of the park. “Soaring Above” envisions a network of towers orienting visitors within the park, and offering elevated viewpoints in and around the green space.
The People’s Choice Award, selected by visitors to theSan Diego Museum of Art, was “Reflections” by Jeffrey Taitano, a student of NewSchool of Architecture + Design. Taitano proposed the installation of a large abstracted gate at the park’s entrance, with other park elements—including event boards and bus stops—built to match the main structure’s minimalist aesthetic.
The Balboa Park Centennial Gateway Competition jury awarded the second-place prize to “Hillcrest Fruit Farm,” from an undergraduate team at NewSchool of Architecture + Design. The submission imagines the creation of a fruit orchard along the northern boundary of Balboa Park, paying homage to horticulturist Kate Sessions as well as landscape architect Samuel Parson’s vision for the park as the city’s food producer.
Finally, the jury split the first-place award three ways, recognizing elements of submissions from De Bartolo + Rimanic Design Studio (“Gateway of Connectivity”), domusstudio architecture (“Park the Dump/Dump the Cars”), and N. Looney Architecture (“Park Boulevard is not an Edge”). “While the Jury felt that each had individual flaws,” the press release explained, “collectively they captured important goals for the Park.” “Park the Dump/Dump the Cars” and “Park Boulevard is not an Edge” both addressed the disposition of the former landfill within Balboa Park, as well as the reabsorption of land currently used for parking. All three winners emphasized the need for to better connect the park and neighboring communities.