Joseph Wong to design mixed-use, high-rise development in downtown San Diego

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Joseph Wong is lead architect for The Block, a mixed-use, high-rise development in downtown San Diego. (Courtesy Zephyr/JWDA)

Joseph Wong is lead architect for The Block, a mixed-use, high-rise development in downtown San Diego. (Courtesy Zephyr)

Local real estate and investment company Zephyr has named Joseph Wong of Joseph Wong Design Associates (JWDA) lead architect of their 60,000-square-foot mixed-use development planned for downtown San Diego. The Block, as it is currently known (the developer has yet to select a final name), will be the first high-rise, mixed-use project in the city since the recession. With an estimated cost exceeding $250 million, the development promises to be a major player in the demographic and architectural transformation of San Diego’s urban core.

The project's glassy towers sit atop a multicolored retail and commercial podium. (Courtesy Zephyr)

The project’s glassy towers rise from a multicolored retail and commercial podium. (Courtesy Zephyr)

Wong’s design features two towers, 21 stories and 41 stories, respectively, rising from a residential and retail platform. According to the architect, the towers’ siting and massing were influenced primarily by local conditions—including setback requirements and the creation of a sun access envelope for a planned public park to the northeast—as well as a desire to maximize views and daylighting. For the facade, said Wong “we thought about not just the context, site circumstance, its history, and surrounding buildings, but also about the longevity of the project and what it could be.” The combination of glass of different transparencies and metal panels in a variety of colors helps distinguish the development from surrounding office buildings, while the clean lines and minimal material palette prevent the towers from feeling bulky. Residential balconies project from the glazing in an alternating pattern that highlights the corners and other points of significance, creating, said Wong, “a rhythm of form and function.”

While some of The Block’s features, including a 25,000-square-foot “amenities deck” designed by Lifescapes International, are reserved for private tenant use, the project’s street presence evinces public-mindedness on the part of both developer and architect. “Downtown San Diego is red hot and continuing to get better every day,” said Zephyr co-CEO Brad Termini. “We hope to play an important role in providing a link between the Gaslamp Quarter, the financial core, and the emerging East Village.” For Wong, the need to mediate between existing high-rise developments and the burgeoning residential fabric was a major factor in the design. “It requires both a visually striking architectural presence in the downtown skyline, and a decidedly pedestrian-friendly approach to its neighbors,” he said. At the ground plane, the formal push and pull of the podium, which features two levels of retail on every side, encourages social engagement. Meanwhile, a 15-foot setback along Broadway combines with the 14-foot pedestrian sidewalk to create a south-facing public plaza and eases access to public transit facilities to both north and south. “By creating opportunities such as a public plaza, retail and commercial space, and recreation areas throughout the ground floor, The Block promotes [walkability] for both the community as a whole and the individual user. Its prominent location further encourages accessibility to neighboring sites and vice versa,” said Wong.

Wong, who describes The Block as a “milestone” development for JWDA, thinks of it as “a project that defines urbanism in every sense.” “The design opportunities of this project are many, and ultimately have to do with the future architecture of our cities,” he concluded. “We’re creating an urban design that contributes to social interaction and addresses the relationship between public and private space.”

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