Posts tagged with "San Diego":

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For its 250th anniversary, San Diego gets an update

This is the third article of AN‘s July/August 2019 print edition feature focused on development. The first, “A new breed of skyscraper threatens to devastate the fabric of New York,” can be read here. The second, "Why the developer’s vision matters in the experience economy," can be read here. As it celebrates the 250th anniversary of its founding this year, San Diego is rethinking past projects, planning billions of dollars’ worth of new projects, and coping with a housing shortage that is making it one of the nation’s least affordable markets. The most significant project on the boards is the redevelopment planned for Horton Plaza shopping center, a 1985 postmodernist downtown mall designed by Jon Jerde. But there are many other megaprojects under construction or in the offing throughout this county of 3.3 million residents. Laura Warner, an architect who moved from the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1980s, watches all this action from her perch as cochair of the San Diego Architectural Foundation’s Orchids & Onions program. This 43-year-old education effort celebrates the good and shames the bad in local building, landscape, planning, and historic preservation projects. “We’ve got some really well crafted, well designed, and well detailed buildings that are places that people like to go to, where they want to create memories,” Warner said. San Diego’s architectural zeitgeist goes back to its founding in 1769 by Spanish colonizers intent on protecting the area from European rivals and the local Kumeyaay population. The colonists introduced new building techniques, laid out towns as required by Spain’s “Laws of the Indies,” and built adobe and stucco ranch houses that remain the local go-to style, especially for residential development. The city’s iconic buildings and structures include the Mission San Diego de Alcalá, Reid & Reid’s 1888 Hotel del Coronado, the 1915 Panama-California Exposition grounds in Balboa Park, the 1920s Navy and Marine Corps bases, the 1938 County Administration Center on the downtown waterfront, Louis Kahn’s 1964 Salk Institute, and William Pereira’s 1970 Geisel Library at the University of California, San Diego, campus. Post–World War II car culture led to sprawl, center-city blight, and urban ills shared with other American cities. Some midcentury mistakes are being reversed, but challenges remain: homelessness, high-priced housing (the median home price in May was $591,000), large wage gaps between tourism service workers and high-tech engineers, and relations with Tijuana across the Mexican border. Ten major projects in the works promise to add to San Diego’s collection of notable buildings, but it remains to be seen if any of them rise to world-class, must-see status in the decades ahead. The Campus at Horton Stockdale Capital Partners of Los Angeles bought the Horton Plaza shopping center in 2018 for $175 million with plans to turn it into a high-tech office complex with only half the 600,000 square feet of retail originally required in the center. The Jerde Partnership’s original postmodern design was copied worldwide, and the new owners are seeking ways to retain some of its quirky features. L.A.-area firms RCH Studios and EYRC Architects are the design architects, and RDC is the executive architect for the redesign. The developers hope to complete the first phase by the end of 2020. Chula Vista Bayfront A 535-acre World War II-era industrial zone is being transformed into a complex comprising hotels, housing, retail, parks, and a conference center in this South Bay city’s portion of the San Diego port tidelands. Houston-based RIDA Development plans a $1.1 billion hotel and conference center on 36 acres. RIDA’s architect is HKS of Dallas. Courthouse Redevelopment Another repurposing project involves the 1960s downtown county courthouse. On the first of three blocks owned by the county government would be a $400 million, 37-story mixed-use building developed by Vancouver, Washington–based Holland Partner Group and designed by local firm Carrier Johnson + Culture. Manchester Pacific Gateway The Navy Broadway Complex, which dates back to the 1920s, has been leased to local developer Doug Manchester, who agreed to build the Navy a new West Coast headquarters. He, in turn, won rights to build hotels, offices, a retail galleria, and a museum on the balance of the complex’s 13.7 acres. Gensler is the architect, and construction of the tower is well underway in the $1.3 billion, 3 million-square-foot complex. NAVWAR The Naval Information Warfare Systems Command (NAVWAR, formerly the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command or SPAWAR) occupies former Air Force hangars dating to World War II located between Old Town San Diego and the Marine Corps Recruit Depot north of downtown. The Navy, seeking a modern research and development home, would like to repeat its deal on the Naval Broadway Complex by signing up a developer who would deliver such a building in exchange for the right to develop the rest of the site privately. The 71-acre location is also being eyed by regional planners as a “Grand Central” multimodal transportation center. The Navy expects to issue a request for proposals. In the meantime, the local National Association of Industrial and Office Parks chapter sponsored a “university challenge” for a portion of the site. The winning $1.6 billion, 4.1 million-square-foot “Delta District” plan from students at the University of San Diego includes offices, housing, and retail, plus an “innovation center” where education and R&D would meet. De Bartolo + Rimanic Design Studio of San Diego aided the UCSD students. One Paseo Suburban development continues in San Diego County, and one of the most controversial suburban projects, One Paseo, opened earlier this year east of Del Mar on the North County coast. Opponents, led by a rival shopping center company, objected to the density and launched an initiative to kill the project, and the developer, Kilroy Realty, downsized the plans. The retail portion, by the Hollywood architecture firm 5+design, opened earlier this year, and the first apartments are due this summer. San Diego Convention Center Expansion The center, built in 1989 and last expanded in 2001, will appear on the March 2020 city ballot in the form of a hotel tax increase that will fund an $800 million expansion, plus homeless and transportation improvements if it can gain the required two-thirds approval. The main new feature would be a rooftop public park. The project designer is Fentress Architects of Denver. SDSU Mission Valley San Diego State University won voter approval in 2018 over local developers’ rival “SoccerCity” to redevelop the 166-acre site of the former Chargers NFL football stadium site in Mission Valley, north of downtown. When the Chargers returned to Los Angeles, the future of the 70,000-seat, 52-year-old stadium was up for grabs. SDSU plans to replace what is now called SDCCU Stadium with a smaller facility for its Aztecs football team. Developers would be selected to build 4,600 housing units and 1 million square feet of office and retail space that ultimately could be repurposed for academic use to complement the university’s 250-acre campus a few miles to the east. Carrier Johnson + Culture prepared a conceptual master plan, and Gensler is the architect for the new $250 million stadium, which is targeted to open for the 2022 football season. Seaport Village The downtown Embarcadero postindustrial transformation began with the construction of the Robert Mosher–designed San Diego–Coronado Bridge in 1969. The obsolete ferry landing was redeveloped as the Seaport Village specialty retail center in 1980. Now it’s time to turn the 39-acres of one-story buildings into something denser and more sophisticated. The current $1.6 billion plan calls for the usual mix of hotel and commercial uses plus an aquarium, ocean-oriented learning center, a 500-foot skytower ride designed by BIG, and water-centric recreational and commercial fishing features. The project architect is San Diego–based AVRP Skyport. UC San Diego The UC San Diego campus, whose first class of fewer than 200 students took up residence in 1964, is nearing an enrollment of 40,000 and is planning to add three more undergraduate residential colleges to the six already in place. The 2,100-acre campus, spanning Interstate 5 in San Diego’s La Jolla neighborhood plus a community hospital near downtown, has about $10 billion dollars in projects planned over the next 10 years. That doesn’t count the $2.1 billion extension of the San Diego Trolley light-rail system which is due to reach the campus in 2021. The campus trolley stop will lead to a new campus gateway entrance, where several major buildings and an outdoor amphitheater are in the works. An off-campus downtown hub on the trolley line is already under construction. Numerous architectural firms, both local and national, have been engaged to build out the campus, including HKS and San Diego–based Safdie Rabines Architects for Sixth College, now under construction; Seattle-based LMN Partners for the Triton Pavilion, a six-building complex at the new trolley stop; and the downtown hub by Carrier Johnson + Culture. Roger Showley is a freelance writer who recently retired from The San Diego Union-Tribune.  
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UC San Diego slated to build a new campus "front door"

UC San Diego is building itself a front door. The Pepper Canyon Amphitheater and Public Realm project, spearheaded by current chancellor Pradeep Khosla, is a restructuring of the physical campus, nestled between the Pacific coastline and Interstate 5. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the top 10 research university aims to become more welcoming to visitors and to better interact with neighbors. The university has added over 11,000 students in the past decade despite a statewide slashing of funds to the UC school system. The master plan includes building a grand entrance to the campus that organizes circulation while also creating a visually striking first impression. The "doorway" is expected to include a new 3,000 seat pavilion and amphitheater, a sculptural “walkway of words,” and an interactive swing set by visual artist Ann Hamilton. Additionally, a projected $761 million worth of new buildings will surround it, from a design and innovation center to a freestanding tower for alumni gatherings. These new projects seek to create what students and faculty feel that the campus has always lacked: an energetic downtown, connecting students to the campus as well as to the surrounding community.  At the center of the design philosophy is the use of public transportation for both students and visitors. There are consistent complaints about parking availability on campus, with some commuter students arriving at school by 5:00 a.m. just to get a spot and then sleeping in their cars until class. The development of San Diego’s Blue Line, a trolley system connecting the university with the city, has the potential to alleviate some of this commuter stress as the campus grows. With its expected completion by 2021, new buildings and plazas are being planned adjacent to the trolley, encouraging alternative transit while also inviting visual interaction between the campus and riders. The new building designs boast large windows overlooking the trolley so commuters are able to see inside workshops and labs, observing students creating and researching. The projects intentionally define a whole new meaning to the word transparency. Chancellor Khosla told the Union-Tribune he hopes that this focus will help eliminate the “urban island” syndrome that UCSD has acquired, existing on a geographic site that was always meant to be isolated. The La Jolla site of UCSD was historically occupied by a Marine Corps training base called Camp Matthews. The site is situated between the ocean’s coastal cliffs and a major highway, Interstate 5, with increasing pressure in the surrounding areas from tech company campuses and residential sprawl each year. However, Khosla is the first of the school’s chancellors to actively advocate for community interaction on campus, welcoming in neighbors and visitors rather than pushing them out. “Anybody who comes to San Diego should have this campus as a destination in addition to Balboa Park or the Gaslamp district,” he said to the Union-Tribune Critics of his open campus plan point out potential distraction on campus for students or security issues arising from homeless populations on public transit. But Khosla and his supporters see the public transport and tourism opportunities as a natural evolution for an increasingly urban campus. “We can’t be afraid of that and close the campus to everybody," he said. "That would be a disaster.”  
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Total conversion of San Diego’s postmodern Horton Plaza sails to approval

A land use exemption required to convert San Diego’s Jon Jerde–designed Horton Plaza Mall complex into a technology office campus has passed after a unanimous City Council vote on May 20, as reported in The San Diego Union-Tribune. That paves the way for the L.A.-based developer Stockdale Capital Partners to slash the retail square footage and reorient the postmodern plaza’s interiors to support high-tech offices—turning the former shopping center into “The Campus at Horton.” The one-million-square-foot, five-story mall will thus be overhauled to reduce the amount of retail space to 300,000 square feet from the current 600,000 square feet, and 772,000 square feet in Horton Plaza will become office space. Everything above Horton Plaza’s first floors will become office space, with retail being relegated to a ground-level “podium.” Additionally, Stockdale can reduce the retail requirement down to only 200,000 square feet if it lands a tenant willing to take at least 100,000 square feet of office space in the next 5 years. The exemption sought by Stockdale, which the City Council passed 9-0, cuts the amount of required retail on the site down from 700,000 square feet to the aforementioned 300,000 square feet. The postmodern Horton Plaza Mall first opened in 1985 and was conceived as a microcosm of the street grid overlain with the typical shopping center typology, including self-constrained streetscapes and multilevel terraces. That sort of defensive urbanism helped the mall thrive (and bolstered the economic fortunes of the surrounding developments) early on, but the complex has fallen on hard times in recent years. Stockdale’s scheme involves adding a glassy 150,000-square-foot, four-story addition to the top of the former Nordstrom building in anticipation of a single tenant company, building an amenity deck for tenants on the site of the former food court, and redeveloping the Bradley Building. The 10-block Plaza is currently sliced through the middle with a pathway running from Broadway to G Street that’s currently peppered with overhangs and sky bridges, and Stockdale will uncover that “street” and remove most of the infrastructure hanging above. However, the underground Lyceum Theater will remain at Horton Plaza until at least 2035 under a $1-a-year lease terms. Stockdale originally purchased the site from Westfield in August of last year for $175 million, and it anticipates that the conversion will cost approximately $275 million. The first phase of The Campus at Horton is expected to open in 2020.
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Plan to transform Jerde’s postmodern wonderland in San Diego moves forward

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.

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.”

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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San Diego eliminates parking requirements for transit-adjacent projects

In California, when it rains, it pours. At least, that seems to be the case when it comes to the flood of parking reforms taking place across the state. The most recent example comes from San Diego, where this week, the city council passed a new parking reform package that eliminated parking requirements for sites located within 1/2-mile of a transit stop. The effort also sets new parking maximum—instead of minimum—requirements in certain areas, including in the city’s downtown. There, a maximum of one parking stall will be allowed per residential unit, with the added restriction that parking must be built below ground if it is built at all. The city will now also require multi-family housing developers to provide so-called “transportation amenities” for their residents, including free transit passes, bicycle storage facilities, and on-site daycare facilities to help reduce automobile trips. In new developments that require at least one stall, the new rules will require one Americans with Disabilities Act–compliant parking stall. For buildings with no parking, no ADA-compliant stalls will be required. San Diego’s embrace of parking reform comes as Republican mayor Kevin Faulconer takes up the mantle of the insurgent “Yes In My Back Yard” (YIMBY) movement in a push to spur housing construction while meeting local climate goals. The reforms enacted in San Diego, for example, mirror some of the policies proposed in Senate Bill 827, a statewide pro-density, YIMBY-backed bill that drew controversy across the state. The efforts also mirror reforms taking place at the state level that have picked up steam under California’s new governor Gavin Newsom. San Diego, like many California cities, is mired with high housing costs and surging levels of homelessness. Though politically noxious until very recently, doing away with parking near transit has come to be seen as an entry-level reform for spurring housing construction because aside from fueling automobile-dependant lifestyles, parking is, simply put, expensive to build. A city report estimates that each parking stall adds between $40,000 and $90,000 to the cost of each residential unit. Those front-end costs translate to higher monthly costs for renters and buyers, costly increases for a state where many residents spend the majority of their incomes on housing and transportation. Further, from a design perspective, required parking imposes many limitations. Before the new ordinance, for example, parking requirements were tied to the number of bedrooms in each unit, meaning that larger residential units, the two- and three-bedroom configurations that are best suited for families, could require up to three or four parking stalls per residence. The requirements are particularly onerous for small- and medium-scale developments on tight urban lots, where required driveways, exacting stall dimensions, and other car-related required elements fundamentally shape not just building design but often, the number of housing units that can be built overall. Cities across the state are becoming wise to the high cost of free parking, however. San Francisco and Sacramento are pursuing their own city-led efforts to curtail parking requirements while Los Angeles’s Transit-Oriented Communities program has successfully sought to induce developers to build affordable housing in lieu of car stalls.
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Open House! San Diego releases lineup for March event

The San Diego Architectural Foundation (SDAF) has announced the lineup for its annual Open House San Diego (OHSD), an architecture and urban design extravaganza scheduled to take place March 23 and 24. The free festival will open up over 100 architecturally-significant locations across San Diego for building and history enthusiasts to explore. The list of buildings includes some of the city’s newest architectural works as well as several of its most historic sites, including Balboa Park, Barrio Logan, and some in the city’s bustling downtown area. This year, the event will spread to the northern suburb of La Jolla, home to the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and many historic works by Irving Gill, among others. In a press release, OHSD founder Susanne Friestedt said, “We expect thousands of San Diegans and out of town visitors, including families and architecture and design students interested in learning about the design, history, and development of our city.” She added, “Last year, more than 7,500 visits were tallied at 83 sites. This year we anticipate at least 10,000 site visit visits. 350 trained volunteers will be on hand to assist visitors.” One highlight in the lineup includes the recently-completed Block D Makers Quarter, a six-story creative office hub designed by BNIM that strives for high-impact sustainability. The LEED Platinum and net-zero structure is wrapped in louvered shades and will anchor a new creative quarter in downtown San Diego.  Miller Hull’s The Wharf at Point Loma, America’s Cup Harbor project, a finger-like arrangement of shops and public spaces, will also open to the public. With the structure, the architects have brought a commercial and social node to San Diego’s waterfront area. Other sites include the Salk Institute by Louis Kahn in La Jolla, the Atmosphere apartments in Downtown San Diego designed by Joseph Wong Design Associates, and the Jacobs Music Center designed by Gensler. See the OHSD website for more information and a full list of participating sites.
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Against all odds, progressive land-use reforms are taking root in American cities

With Minneapolis, San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles moving forward with progressive land-use and transportation reforms last week, much of the conventional thinking behind how American cities work could soon be upended.  As the converging threats of climate change, housing unaffordability, and pollution continue to hamstring the country’s urban areas, cities across the country are taking matters into their own hands by enacting bold but common-sense reforms in the face of federal and state inaction. For one, a groundbreaking comprehensive plan update in Minneapolis that would eliminate the city’s single-family zones took a step forward last week after two years of public debate and negotiations. The so-called 2040 Minneapolis Plan would make the city the first in the country to upzone all of its single-family residential neighborhoods to allow up to three dwelling units per lot. Under the 2040 initiative, the city will be able to re-establish a tradition of building what’s known as “missing middle” housing, the types of naturally affordable small- to medium-scale neighborhoods that make up the backbones of most American cities built before the 1950s. The plan is designed to break down racial and income disparities between neighborhoods in the city while allowing Minneapolis to absorb expected job and population growth over coming decades. Housing activists across the country are now looking to Minneapolis to see how the experiment plays out as efforts to enact similar policies pick up across the country, especially in Seattle, where a similar effort is gaining steam. In Oregon, a plan to eradicate single-family zoning in cities with 10,000 or more residents took a step forward this week. Aside from taking on exclusionary zoning, other cities, including Buffalo, San Francisco, and San Diego, are looking to eliminate off-street parking requirements to varying extents as they work to reclaim the enormous amount of space taken up by parked cars. In 2017, Buffalo became the first municipality in the country to totally eliminate parking requirements city-wide. The effort comes as part of a new zoning initiative that will bring what is known as a “form-based code” (FBC) to the city. As the name implies, FBCs typically regulate the overall geometries of urban areas by setting particular height limits, setbacks, and other design guidelines that can be followed regardless of use. The approach runs counter to more common use-based codes that carve cities up into monofunctional areas with residential, industrial, and commercial districts. FBCs are seen both as a way of re-establishing mixed-use neighborhoods while also creating contextual and preservation-friendly zones. With the update, Buffalo joins Denver, Las Vegas, and Miami, which have also recently enacted FBCs. Over in California, as the state’s new legislature takes up a series of bold housing reforms, San Diego Mayor Kevin Falconer is one step ahead with a proposal to scrap parking requirements for transit-adjacent areas. A new proposal would eliminate required parking for housing located within 1/2-mile from a transit stop, a change similar to a state-wide effort that was derailed last year. The latest effort, according to the mayor, will be geared toward lowering the cost of building housing—a single parking stall adds between $35,000 and $90,000 in costs per unit of housing in the state—while also resulting in shorter and less bulky buildings. San Francisco has taken the proposal one step further by moving to become the largest city in the country to scrap parking requirements outright. City Supervisor Jane Kim put forward a measure this month to totally eliminate the requirement city-wide in an effort to bolster the city’s climate bona fides and help reign in housing costs. But don’t call it a “parking ban,” developers will instead be allowed to build parking up to a maximum threshold if they deem it necessary. The yet-to-be-approved initiative could go into effect next year. Nearby, Sacramento is working to enact a city-wide transit-oriented development plan that would limit drive-through restaurants and gas stations and lower parking requirements within 1/2-mile from transit stops in the city. Change is afoot even in car-loving Los Angeles, where an ambitious but currently under-funded plan to build 28 large scale transit projects by the 2028 Olympic games has prompted local officials to consider so-called “congestion pricing.” No official plan has been unveiled, but the Los Angeles Metro CEO Phil Washington last week presented several ideas that could potentially fill the funding gap, including requiring drivers to pay for traveling in some of the city’s most congested areas. To boot, Curbed reported that during a presentation to the Metro Board of Directors, Washington even proposed using the fees generated from congestion pricing to make Los Angeles the first city in the United States to offer free public transportation every day of the year.
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CityIQ plans to install thousands of sensors to monitor San Diego

Smart City Expo World Congress, held this year in Barcelona, is an annual architectural, engineering, and technology exhibition dedicated to creating a better future for cities worldwide through social collaboration and urban innovation. Among the projects that were unveiled at this November's event was CityIQ’s proposal to install 4,200 sensor nodes throughout San Diego, California, a major tech hub whose goal is to decrease its carbon emissions and energy use in order to fight climate change. The CityIQ nodes, which are part of an elaborate internet of things (IoT) project, will be coupled with new smart city apps to improve the city’s parking, traffic, and streetlight efficiency by an estimated 20 percent. CityIQ is already cooperating with multiple departments within San Diego, including the police department, San Diego Gas & Electric, and the Traffic and Engineering and Operations unit. The company's IoT project involves embedding sensors and software into the streets of the San Diego in order to collect and exchange data, and just last week, the city agreed to install 1,000 more nodes than originally planned. The new data that will be accumulated by the nodes can support a wide variety of innovative apps, including Genetec, which facilitates real-time emergency response, Xaqt, which displays the latest traffic patterns, CivicSmart, a smart parking app, and ShotSpotter, a gunshot detection app that can locate the scene of the shooter in less than a minute. The city is also working toward bringing a state-of-the-art Lightgrid system onto the streets, whose immediate data collection and connectivity will provide the city with a better understanding of streetlight usage, and it is expected to save the city over $250,000 in energy costs. “Our ability to leapfrog our smart cities technology ahead in both energy savings and scale is a testament to the hard work and ongoing collaboration of many public and private stakeholders,” said San Diego’s interim deputy chief operating officer Erik Caldwell in a statement. “We are proud of our progress so far in building a solution that will stand in the test of time and enhance our citizens’ quality of life.”
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Selldorf Architects breaks ground on controversial San Diego museum expansion

After a summer filled with dueling op-eds, petitions, and general outcry from members of the international architectural community, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) and New York City–based Selldorf Architects have officially broken ground on a controversial $95 million expansion to the museum’s campus in La Jolla, California. The Times of San Diego reports that the groundbreaking occurred Thursday of last week and quotes Selldorf Architects founder Annabelle Selldorf as saying: “This is a special place in the world. But the collection of the museum inspires equal awe. Giving home to this beautiful collection is an incredibly vital thing to do.” The project aims to more than double the size of the museum by adding 37,000 square feet of new spaces to the complex, which was last expanded by Venturi Scott Brown Associates (VSBA) in 1996. The designers aim to achieve this task by adding a new ocean-facing wing along the southern end of the complex, reorienting the museum’s entry and adding a slew of much-needed gallery spaces in the process. The project also aims to renovate the existing 35,000-square-foot original complex, which was initially designed by famed California architect Irving Gill and was expanded several times during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s by local architects Mosher Drew. The reorientation of the museum’s entrance has been seen as controversial by many in the international architecture community, including Denise Scott Brown who has spoken out against the addition. Scott Brown contends that the entry VSBA designed was derived from the “careful study and understanding of La Jolla’s urban form” in a widely-circulated petition, and that as a result, the plan deserves to be preserved. In several phone calls with The Architect’s Newspaper, Scott Brown has explained that she does not see Selldorf’s addition and the preservation of the VSBA elements as mutually exclusive, however, and hopes that a way can be found to retain the logic of the existing entrance while fulfilling the needs of the growing museum. The existing entry arrangement is a chief design contribution from Scott Brown—who aside from being an architect is also a celebrated urban planner—and it is considered an integral aspect of the VSBA addition and its guiding postmodern ideals. The elements that are being retained by the Selldrorf team relate more directly to the bombastic, iconographic forms VSBA is best known for and include the museum’s so-called Axline Court, a starburst-shaped atrium topped by neon-lit archways. According to Selldorf, her team is dedicated to celebrating the many lives of the museum and has worked hard to retain key elements of the VSBA design. Regarding the entrance, Selldorf told AN this summer, “Our task was to add an entrance that people could find,” while adding, “Not everybody thought we should be so determined to keep [the VSBA-designed] portions, but we are doing a lot of work to have those elements retain a significant presence in reinvigorated building.” The proposed renovations have exposed a critical and long-running schism in preservation thinking over not only which types of heritage are worth preserving, but perhaps as significantly, over the scope and scale of what is considered fundamental to postmodernism and postmodern design in architecture. The question here, as with many preservation-related projects, is whether surface-level decoration—neon lights, flamboyant archways, and textured materials—convey the essence of a work enough to allow for fundamental changes in use and organization or whether true preservation requires more. The question has gained greater urgency in the weeks following the death of Robert Venturi and amid a growing climate of uncertainty for not only VSBA’s works, but for elements of postmodern heritage in general. According to Scott Brown’s interpretation, the project’s plan—inspired by the double-coded logic of medieval European town squares and urban economic theory—is as important to MCASD’s status as a postmodern work as the building’s more visually-aggressive elements, highlighting the fundamental disagreement at hand. Either way, Scott Brown’s petition and the global outcry have not been enough to cause thinking on the project to shift significantly. Site work has been underway at the complex over the last few months as crews worked to remove a monumental pergola associated with the VSBA addition. Last week’s official groundbreaking indicates the project is moving forward at full-steam. Despite the demolition of the colonnade, the La Jolla Historical Society was able to salvage one of the two pergola structures and has since installed the fiberglass and steel assembly in a nearby garden that is free to the public and open for visitors. Selldorf Architects’ additions are scheduled to be completed in 2021.
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Rescued Venturi Scott Brown pergola to rise again in a San Diego garden

The La Jolla Historical Society of San Diego, California, has announced final plans for a new public garden it has created that will house repurposed elements of the Venturi Scott Brown Associates' (VSBA) Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) complex. Specifically, the garden will contain one of the two fiberglass and aluminum pergola structures that have been removed from the MCASD complex as part of an increasingly controversial renovation and expansion scheme for the museum by New York City–based Selldorf Architects. The pergola features a dozen rounded, Tuscan-inspired fiberglass columns that support an aluminum trellis designed to evoke a traditional wood pergola. The words “Contemporary Art” are arranged across the horizontal section of the pergola in red capital letters. Originally, the paired structures flanked the north side of the Prospect Street entrance to MCASD to create a pedestrian-oriented seating area at the mouth of the museum where visitors could gather. Only one of the two pergolas was saved from demolition. The pergolas have been cleared away by the Selldorf team in an effort to reorient the building’s main entrance toward a new atrium. In a statement announcing the planned opening of the garden next month, Heath Fox, executive director for the historical society, highlighted the postmodern stylings of the VSBA addition, saying, “We appreciate the significance of VSBA’s postmodern design of the MCASD entry facade, the importance of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown to the history of postmodern architecture, and the fact that this building was the only VSBA project executed in San Diego.” Fox added, “The Society [also] recognizes the important historical relationship between VSBA and the work of early 20th-century architect Irving J. Gill,” the designer behind the original portion of the MCASD campus. In the statement, Fox explained that the organization he helms recognized “the opportunity to save and historically preserve the ‘Contemporary Art’ pergola as an architectural fragment” and that the Society had relocated and restored the pergola to its original conditions with “original materials and [the] same paint colors, including the red ‘Contemporary Art’ lettering.” The Society worked with architect Tony Crisafi of Island Architects, structural engineer Matthew Mangano, and landscape architect Greg Hebert to bring the garden to life. The pergola will now be located in the Society’s lower terrace garden, roughly 300 feet from its original placement and will remain a part of the Scripps-Gill Cultural District. The garden is set to open to the public September 15, 2018.
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Unpacking Selldorf Architects’ controversial addition to Venturi Scott Brown’s Museum of Contemporary Art

As postmodernism comes roaring back in the architecture world, the time finally seems ripe for many unfairly maligned buildings to receive their due respect. But at the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), the opposite seems on the verge of happening: A proposed concrete-and-glass expansion threatens to severely damage a lovely and highly functional building by Venturi Scott Brown and Associates (VSBA). The agglomerated museum of today—built in pieces between 1915 and 1996—mixes austere concrete with playful color, oversize plaster columns with powerful round arches, large signs and neon with an intimate courtyard. The original portion, a spare house by the California architect Irving Gill, gently tussles with VSBA’s surrounding addition; together, they embrace the tensions inherent in preserving a house within the context of a museum’s more monumental scale. And yet the complex still manages to fit comfortably in its historic surroundings: a set of buildings also designed by Gill that together form a central green for the village of La Jolla. The proposed expansion, on the other hand, shows little interest in its surroundings. The work of New York City architect Annabelle Selldorf, it includes an interior renovation that would smartly turn the existing auditorium into gallery space with a pleasant set of oceanside terraces. But things go awry in the new galleries and glass-entrance atrium, which, in the architect's zeal for a sort of Tadao Ando–inspired minimalism, end up missing out on an opportunity to contribute to the building’s richness. The most alarming proposal, though, is the removal of VSBA’s dramatic colonnade and, consequently, the courtyard that it helps to form. Selldorf argues that the colonnade obstructs views of the original house, but she overlooks the way in which its exaggerated scale both projects the museum’s civic presence and creates a sense of shelter that allows visitors to experience the house in Gill’s intended intimate setting, separated from the traffic out front. Visitors pass through the compressed courtyard on their way into the building—but then upon entering suddenly encounter the double-height explosion of light, neon, and brightly colored patterns that is VSBA’s iconic Axline Court. Under the new plan, the house would indeed be more visible from the road, but it would appear small and insubstantial, overshadowed by the later additions. Visitors would enter via the glass atrium then proceed directly into the new galleries, undercutting the importance of the house and making the Axline Court into a kind of curious afterthought. Both Selldorf and museum director Kathryn Kanjo say they want the court to remain lively, but given the proposed circulation—in which most visitors will only come across it at the back of the bookstore or after passing through three galleries—it’s hard to see what purpose it could serve. The sum total of the new plan would be a mishmash: an unhappy family of buildings that refuse to talk to one another all jammed together onto a single site. It would lose the crescendoing choreography of spaces that gives it vitality and order, as well the carefully considered relation to the town green. And not for any good reason: it would be quite possible—and substantially cheaper—to add galleries where Selldorf proposes without fundamentally detracting from the existing building. Unfortunately, such an approach would require an appreciation on the museum’s part of its architectural legacy that has so far not been forthcoming. Officials I spoke to seemed to have given little thought to the impact of the new project on the VSBA building, and when pressed on their thinking offered no particular reason that the existing circulation or aesthetics needed to be changed. And the museum made only the feeblest of efforts to contact Scott Brown and Venturi about the plans—former director Hugh Davies says he left a single message at their office in 2014, though by that point they had been retired for several years and consequently never heard it. No follow-up was ever attempted; the duo were understandably surprised when I showed them the plans a few weeks ago. By contrast, when Renzo Piano undertook the renovation of the former May Company department store on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, he immediately contacted the office of the architects who designed it, A.C. Martin, and walked through his ideas with the firm’s current partners. Why are Venturi and Scott Brown, widely recognized as among the most important architects of the postwar era, not accorded a similar respect? The short answer to this question is simply that their work is unfashionable: too old to seem new but not old enough to have that nostalgic patina of “another era.” The longer answer is perhaps that architecture that engages the messiness of the world around it must fight an uphill battle for survival in the world of contemporary building—where architecture is too often seen as a formal game, as a matter of sculpting material and form with little concern for the complexities of place and identity. Too many of today’s architects and clients, not understanding the ethical imperative behind the VSBA mode of design, write it off as postmodern riffing—surface-level ornament without a coherent underlying order. But actually each element of the work relates to the larger whole—to symbolic meanings, to the physical and cultural context, to sequences of spaces. And in those relationships emerge subtle and sometimes even disconcerting distortions and juxtapositions—a traditional dome represented only through a bright neon outline in the Axline Court, an entry sequence that at first leads you toward the old front door of the Gill House and then suddenly turns you sideways. These moments allow us to look at the world a little differently: to see the familiar as strange and to reflect on what it means. This powerful but difficult way of making meaning, so well appreciated in many of the artworks of MCASD’s collection, seems to offend contemporary sensibilities when it makes its way into architecture. Indeed, this is not the first time VSBA‘s work has been mistreated in a contemporary renovation. The 2007 expansion of their 1991 Seattle Art Museum by the minimalist architect Brad Cloepfil similarly disregarded a carefully orchestrated entry sequence, replacing it with—drumroll please—yet another generic atrium. Though the VSBA-designed building’s exterior was ostensibly left alone, Cloepfil’s hefty glass tower flatly declines to engage with it (or with the rest of its context, for that matter). Now the original building has taken on the feeling of an eccentric side wing wedged up against a chunky office block. At this point nothing short of a total renovation could set things right. Fortunately, it isn’t too late for the San Diego museum to learn from Seattle and modify its course. It need not totally redesign the addition, but it ought to let the VSBA- and Gill-designed buildings continue on in their lively interplay of similarities and differences. It ought to leave the columns alone, or at least update them respectfully, and rethink the wisdom of having visitors enter through a generic atrium. As Scott Brown put it to me, “Making a more simple-minded entry could be, maybe, just that—too simple-minded.”

A compromise does seem possible. Earlier this year, value engineering eliminated one of the best features of Selldorfs proposal: translucent skylights above the new galleries and converted auditorium. Why not bring them back by saving money on the new atrium and entry sequence? The worrisome proposed circulation would be improved, as would Selldorfs own galleries. The Axline Court would retain its function as the hub around which the various other parts of the museum are clustered, and the Gill house would remain at the museums visual and circulatory heart.

Such a renovation would recognize a key thing: that effective renovations must be a labor of love. They cannot arise from a dislike of what was there before. If the new addition struggles against the Gill and Venturi Scott Brown buildings, if it chooses not to understand or engage with them, then no one will winnot Selldorf, not the museum, and certainly not the village of La Jolla. The rare vitality achieved in the current building will not be easily recovered.

A shortened version of this story appeared in AN’s June print issue. This story has been updated to reflect new information.
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San Diego's largest, costliest development in city history begins construction on the waterfront

A massive $1.5 billion plan to redevelop a string of formerly Navy-owned properties along the San Diego waterfront is finally entering into the construction phase following years of delays and decades’ worth of planning and environmental review.  The so-called Manchester Pacific Gateway development developed by San Diego-based Manchester Financial Group will bring over 3 million square feet of mixed-use development and a 1.9-acre park to eight ocean-fronting city blocks in the San Diego’s downtown area.  The multi-phase project will be anchored by a new Navy headquarters, to be housed in a new 17-story, 372,000-square-foot mixed-use tower located at the heart of the project. The tower complex will also include: a 1,100-room convention hotel, a 29-story, 524,000-square-foot office tower, an eight-story, 178,000-square-foot office building, a six-story, 153,000-square-foot office tower, 290,000 square feet of retail spaces, and a 260-key luxury hotel, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.  Renderings for the project depict a collection of traditionally-styled high-rises with arched storefront windows along the ground floors and repetitive spans of curtainwall glass interrupted by vertical and horizontal bands of masonry detailing on upper levels. One of the tower blocks will consist of a pair of linked towers that are connected via a skywalk while other structures in the complex will feature stepped-back facades and punched openings along certain exposures. The two largest building clusters feature four-story podium structures that anchor the towers located above, with both podium levels topped with terraces and garden amenities, including an elliptical swimming pool.  A site-wide pedestrian spine will run across the length of the properties and will transform into an interior, retail-lined arcade when it bisects the largest structure in the complex.  An architect has not been named for the project.  Work on all phases of the Manchester Pacific Gateway project is to be undertaken simultaneously, with the new Navy headquarters and several of the office towers scheduled to be completed in late 2020. The remaining project components are slated for a mid-2021 debut.  The project is among a long list of waterfront redvelopment efforts in San Diego, including another $1.5 billion development for the Port of San Diego aimed at tourists and a 41-story “super prime” luxury tower by Kohn Pedersen Fox.