On View> Architects and developers rethink downtown San Diego

On View> Architects and developers rethink downtown San Diego

A view of a booming downtown San Diego. (Kidd Radi)
A view of a booming downtown San Diego. (Kidd Radi)

On September 23—and in a the heart of downtown San Diego across Jon Jerde’s famous Horton Plaza—Bosa Development, headed by Nat Bosa, opened for a limited run exhibition entitled Rethink Downtown: Behind San Diego’s Skyline. The show celebrates San Diego’s urban history and asks visitors to ponder downtown’s future: Where it’s going and how architecture, design, amenities, and quality of life enable San Diego to matter on a national scale from millennials to boomers?

East Harbor and Petco Park in San Diego (Kidd Radi)

“San Diego is more livable now and the city should be proud of it.”
—Jinsuk Park, Kohn Pedersen Fox

The exhibition presents a chronological view of San Diego’s downtown urban process of “rethinking” itself though historic photographs, from the Spanish-Colonial Mission of Junipero Serra to the future development of Pacific Gate, a 41–story residential high-rise by Bossa Development designed by the New York firm of Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates.

A historical photo of the city’s military past. The Destroyer Base circa 1946. (Courtesy San Diego History Center)

Vancouver-based design critic and urban commentator Trevor Boddy curated the narrative Rethink; his premise sketches a slice of downtown history. Photos and drawings hang on a series of freestanding walls where visitors can follow the specific historical moments that have made Downtown San Diego a more livable, rethought place. A large-scale model of downtown shows Bossa’s contribution to the city’s skyline through its current and future developments. It is interesting to note that the curator had not visited San Diego for more than 30 years. “When I was here in 1983 San Diego did not have much of a downtown, you came here to go to Tijuana” Boddy said. The exhibit presents San Diego’s boom and bust evolution, yet it overlooked one of the most important documents ever made for the city and the region; “Temporary Paradise” drafted by Kevin Lynch and Donald Appleyard in 1974.

The exhibition events will include lectures and presentations and panel discussions related to architecture and urbanism of downtown San Diego, as well as a showroom for Bossa’s future developments in the city that includes a series of residential high rise projects. During the opening event Bossa emphasized that the purpose of the presence of tall buildings in the city has been to “Give San Diego a new generation of residential high rises, more residential [housing] is needed.” According to the Rethink exhibition, the future of San Diego is a vertical paradise.

The evening presentation ended with a tour by KPF’s Jinsuk Park through the design stages of the nautilus inspired Pacific Gate Tower. Guests saw the conceptual sketches and models of the tower now under construction near San Diego’s harbor and will sit alongside another residential tower by Bossa and KPF accentuating a gateway gesture to the city. “Residential buildings are the new architecture icons in cities and an important part of downtown revivals” Park exclaimed.

A proposal for the city waterfront (Robbie Polley)

Residential high-rises look great on a city’s postcard, but are not necessarily what stimulate great urban public spaces.  The efficacy of housing in downtown has been due in most part to the diversity in affordable unit design and the ability to activate urban space at a street level. In 1995, Little Italy a neighborhood on the northern edge of downtown was at the forefront of a new type of urban renewal model. The work of local architects (Rob Quigley, Ted Smith, Jonathan Segal, Kathy McCormick, to name a few) began experimenting with the practice model of architect developers focusing on the urban impact that mix-use dense urban living can have on the economic and urban success of a neighborhood.

Downtown in 1980. (Courtesy San Diego History Center)

The livability of downtown San Diego has been consequence of pedestrian amenities such as large tree lined sidewalks, accessibility to public transportation and diverse mid-rise housing developments that encourage small shops and restaurants to stay in their community. A walkable density is what the city needs to focus on.

The next rethinking of San Diego should include planning strategies that integrate communities such as Golden Hill, North Park, and Barrio Logan, vibrant zones that are catering to a different type of urbanite. It is these spaces that require investment to strengthen their cultural and housing diversity as well as keeping them far from the homogeneity of the glass box tower.