A preliminary plan to transform the Jon Jerde–designed Horton Plaza Mall complex in San Diego has taken several steps forward in recent weeks as developer Stockdale Capital Partners detailed plans to reconfigure the dazzling postmodern shopping mall into a mixed-use technology campus.

In mid-April, San Diego’s economic development committee unanimously supported a change of deed request made by the developers to reduce the amount of retail space that must be included in the development. Currently, guidelines require that at least 700,000 square feet of retail spaces be provided on the site, a figure the developer seeks to slash in half. In exchange for the reduction, the developer would build a 772,000-square-foot tech office campus on top of a 300,000-square-foot retail podium.

The plan, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported, would require Stockdale to take responsibility for a city-owned park located on the site, as well.

A recent batch of renderings unveiled for the new complex depicts glass curtainwall facades and dark metal structural elements. A mix of indoor-outdoor spaces and ground level shops, gyms, and restaurants would serve up to 4,000 tech workers who could be located on the site.

A rendering of the proposed Horton Plaza redevelopment

Rendering of proposed Horton Plaza redevelopment (Courtesy Stockdale Capital Partners)

At the economic development committee meeting, Stockdale cofounder Dan Michaels said, “We’ve done this before,” referencing the firm’s successful redevelopment of a similar mall complex in Scottsdale, Arizona, that brought a slew of marquee tech companies to the city, adding, “[Horton Plaza] is the opportunity incarnate.”

The plan, however, is not without controversy.

Several cultural heritage and historic preservation groups have challenged the plan, which would remove all of the postmodern elements of the complex. Organizations like the San Diego Architecture Foundation and the La Jolla Historical Society have publicly asked the developer to take steps to somehow preserve the iconic postmodern facades that mark the mall’s interior courtyard.

In a letter supporting the preservation of the existing complex, Heath Fox, executive director of the La Jolla Historical Society, said, “Horton Plaza is a highly intact, signature example of postmodernism by an important architect, and large-scale examples of postmodern architecture are exceedingly rare.”

Photograph of Horton Plaza.

Preservationists in San Diego want to save the iconic postmodern complex. (Antonio Pacheco/AN)

Designed in the early 1980s during an era when defensive urbanism reigned supreme in American cities, Horton Plaza was conceived as a microcosm where some of the unexpected and organic qualities of traditional urban environments were recreated inside a tightly-controlled private development.

As a result, Jerde created stacked and broad covered interior streets that offer new and delightful experiences around every corner.

Richly detailed with traditionally-inspired cornices, pressed tin ceilings, ordered columns, and ever-changing and sumptuous materiality, no two vistas within the mall are alike. Massive mosaic tile-covered facades protrude into the central space to create the illusion of organic development while walkways slope to connect different levels as they might in an Italian hillside town. In other areas, variously styled storefronts project from larger facades and stuccoed expanses of cerulean, goldenrod, and rose-hued masses collide and explode every which way.

The development, heralded as a transformative success when it originally opened in 1985, has fallen on hard times in recent years, even as the areas around it have thrived due to the urban resurgence the complex initiated.

If Stockdale is successful in its efforts, the project could take shape as soon as 2020.

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