Today, a new development has to be more than just a pretty face.
Is it a smart building?
A green one?
Does it add character to the community?
What about its economic impact?
While design is an integral part of any new development, Our City San Diego’s inaugural Development of the Year contest sought not to look just at aesthetics but to consider how the projects have helped shape and drive the communities they became part of.
For this reason, the projects were judged 40 percent on their vision, 25 percent on community improvement, 25 percent on aesthetics and 10 percent on environmental sustainability.
Noted Tijuana architect Rene Peralta joined Our City San Diego’s top editors as a judge.
The competition included five categories: small and large multifamily housing; small and large commercial projects; and affordable housing.
Community character matters, and now it may matter more than ever, given that many cities are pushing the envelope when it comes to creating desirable, transit-friendly urban pockets.
San Diego seems to be succeeding at this. We have one of the largest millennial populations in the nation, and millennials are drawn to such neighborhoods.
Some of the winning projects show why this may be, particularly those in the multifamily housing categories, which boast cutting-edge designs and uber livable units.
The challenge of contributing to community character is even greater for large commercial projects, which have the potential to overshadow and dominate existing development. But in this category, as well, the entries show just how imaginative architects and developers can be.
“There were many interesting projects, yet I selected the ones that I felt are making, or will make, an impact in the community,” Peralta said.
Multifamily Housing - Less than 30 units
First place (tie)
1941 Columbia St., San Diego
Developer: West Ventures LP
Architect: Jeff Svitak
Contractor: Valley Development
Architect Jeff Svitak was inspired by the winding streets of Venice when he designed 1941 Columbia, an 18-unit apartment complex in Little Italy.
What’s remarkable is the scant amount of space he had to work with in this ambitious infill project— just 5,000 square feet.
As Svitak noted: “A very difficult site to work with due to being constrained on three sides. The layout opens up into itself, allowing the tenants to interact and develop their own private sense of community, slightly removed from the exterior environment of the city.”
And let’s talk sustainability. The building operates on only 480 amps of electricity. Because each room in the building is cross-ventilated, there’s no need for air-conditioning.
The development seeks to attract millennials. Rental prices vary from $1,200 to $3,000 per month.
Peralta said “The modernist architecture aesthetic of simple lines and volumes create an opportunity for a well-designed atmosphere of interior and exterior space. The interior courtyard scheme works well in this climate and allows the penetration of light and air.”
4183 Voltaire St., San Diego
Developer: Veritas Urban Properties
Architect: Stephen Dalton Architects
Contractors: Murfey Construction
The corner of Voltaire Street and Chats-worth Boulevard in Point Loma was not a pretty picture. For years. And years. And …
Formerly home to a gas station, the empty lot had become filled with weeds and trash. The surrounding, sagging fence was home to political signs during campaign seasons. Other than that, there was no activity.
The lot sat vacant for two decades.
Today, it’s a whole new story. The infill project that was built there has nine townhome units and a Coffee Bean outlet on the first floor. The community has since seen other improvements, including a yoga studio across the street.
As the entry notes:
“Today lies a truly unique little urban community that embraces the sun as an energy source, propagates a water-wise native landscape and creates a renewed sense of pride and belonging for the people of this great neighborhood.”
The townhomes are priced from $515,000 to $605,000, and they target young to middle-aged professionals.
Peralta said “Famosa Townhomes sits well on its corner lot, as it allows the residential units to front the sidewalk in the manner of an urban pedestrian street. Its also integrates well with the community by keeping its height at the neighborhood scale. The variety of amenities for the tenants and community fit well with its mixed-use program, and it allows the architect to design every façade with a particular character and materiality. The project feels integrated with its context.”
Multifamily Housing - More than 30 units
3752 Park Blvd., San Diego
Developer: Jonathan Segal
Architect: Jonathan Segal
An infill project by celebrated architect Jonathan Segal, this Hillcrest development contains 36 units and a restaurant on the street level called Trust.
We, um, trust this development will succeed.
It brings much-needed housing to Hillcrest, one of San Diego’s more sought-after communities in which to live. It’s also quite easy on the eyes, what with its dynamic design.
However, there remains much push and pull between developers and residents as to how much density should be allowed in the area.
That debate is hardly limited to Hillcrest. Many San Diego communities are struggling to reach agreements when it comes to density. Some argue increases are necessary to meet Cimate Action Plan goals.
Because Segal acted as both architect and developer, he was able to avoid entanglements that can slow projects, he told Breadtruck Films. Mr. Robinson, located at Park Boulevard and Robinson Avenue, took just 14 months to build.
Units start at $2,400 a month.
Peralta said “It is always refreshing to see architects try to change the paradigm of urban living in the 21st century. Mr. Robinson brings to the market a model based on a singular spatial clarity and formal rigor. Lacking the superfluous decorative details of the competition, its strength comes through minimalism (spatial and constructive) and it points toward a new way of living in the city.”
227 E. Broadway, Vista
Developer: Tideline Partners
Architect: POD Architecture
Contractor: JA Brown Construction Management and Consulting
Small project, big heart.
Here, the developer took a big chance in developing a property in downtown Vista, the site of a former shoe-repair shop.
According to the entry: “Tideline’s vision was to deliver a catalytic spec restaurant building in the heart of downtown that featured sustainable contemporary building design and a large outdoor patio that engaged and activated the street. Tideline’s hope was that its leap of faith, in light of the challenging past, would attract other private investment and drive the renaissance of downtown Vista.”
However, it didn’t just pull out the hammers and get to work. Tideline actually moved its offices from La Jolla to Vista. Lev Gershman, the principal, joined the Central Vista Business Improvement District to learn more about the community and its needs.
Instead of letting the property sit vacant while it secured permits, Tideline let the community use the property. Vista Art Foundation held a number of painting workshops, as well as a Halloween fundraiser. A dance workshop was held by a local dance artist who teaches at-risk children.
Then came the construction. Tideline wanted something bold and unique. As the entry notes: “POD created a timeless design, borrowing from Frank Lloyd Wright’s compress-and-release philosophy, and integrated an artifact from the original structure, which embraced modern design with a nod of respect to the past. The aesthetics of the building are superb and really stand out in a sleepy neighborhood with tremendous potential.”
Peralta said “Great buildings are not only known for their built form but also can be significant for the processes by which they evolved. 227 Broadway incorporates a narrative, a story; and stories are also part of our cities. In this project, it’s refreshing to see how people’s needs and desires integrate into a redevelopment project without sacrificing economic benefit. 227 Broadway begs the question: How do you create awareness of the potential vitality of a community through the process of its redevelopment at the same time? Great story!”
5600 Avenida Encinas, Carlsbad
Architect: Rapt Studios and OJB Landscape Architecture
Contractor: Lusardi Construction
What to make of Make?
It’s arguably the coolest office space in the region. Cruzan took what originally was an electronics manufacturing plant, and later the Carlsbad International Floral Trade Center, and made something that really flowers.
It’s 175,000 square feet of Wow!
GoPro moved there. Because, well, we’re assuming it just had to be there.
As Make notes on its website: “Make is an office complex for ambitious and innovative companies that demand a work space that sets them apart.”
Make’s amenities include a fitness center and a cafe housed in a shipping container, beach cruisers, an outdoor amphitheater, and horseshoe and fire pits.
Are you a surfer? Well, it also has room to store your surfboard, as well as outdoor showers.
Peralta said “Make is what San Diego is all about: forward-thinking entrepreneurship and open to new ideas. The project touches upon many positive aspects of community redevelopment and economic investment. Old buildings, especially industrial in character like this one, are part of San Diego’s history, and their reuse is important in keeping alive the legacy of progress and innovation. As Jane Jacobs once said: ‘Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings."
550 14th Ave., San Diego
Developers: Chelsea Investment Corp., Alpha Project, San Diego Housing Commission, City of San Diego and Civic San Diego
Architect: Joseph Wong Design Associates
Contractor: Emmerson Construction
Big project, big heart.
This project is all about providing housing — very sweet housing, at that — for San Diego’s less fortunate.
At seven stories, it boasts 201 furnished studio apartments. It’s located in East Village, where many of San Diego’s homeless congregate.
For years, new apartment and condominium developments rose all around them. How many dreamed that one might be built for them?
“Alpha Square is going to be a home for those who need a little bit of help. It’s a new beginning for San Diegans looking for a fresh start on their lives,” said San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer at the ribbon-cutting ceremony in November 2015.
The apartments are restricted to tenants with incomes ranging from 30 percent to 50 percent of the San Diego area’s median Income. Thirty percent is about $16,600 a year.
The project cost $47.6 million and is considered a key component to helping battle homelessness. Many homeless advocates are calling for a so-called housing-first method to battle the problem. With that, the homeless are given shelter, as well as services, to help them stabilize their lives.
That’s what Alpha Square provides.
Peralta said “Alpha Square presents the opportunity to integrate the most vulnerable actors of our city into its urban growth plans. Inclusive housing is fundamental to a humanized and democratic development of our cities. The architects have been able to make the building fit right in with the rest of new development happening for some time in downtown San Diego. Inclusive low-income housing can also be an asset as well as interesting architecturally.”
About the judges
Peralta was educated at the New School of Architecture in San Diego and at the Architectural Association in London, England. He was a senior lecturer at the Tijuana/San Diego Urban Design Studio of Washington University from 2008 to 2010. From 2012 to 2014, he was director of the Master of Science in Architecture program with emphasis on Landscape and Urbanism at Woodbury University School of Architecture in San Diego. Since 2013 he has been a lecturer in the Urban Studies and Planning program at University of California San Diego.
Peralta’s work in the last few years has been focused on researching social and cultural forms of the urban border, specifically between the cities of Tijuana and San Diego.
Crittenden, editor-in-chief of Our City San Diego, graduated with honors from University of Southern California with a degree in public administration specializing in urban planning. The fifth-generation San Diegan received his law degree from American University Washington College of Law before starting the Cypress Magazines publishing company in 1991.
Stetz, managing editor of Our City San Diego, is a longtime journalist with experience in newspaper, magazine and web writing. His previous stint was with The San Diego Union-Tribune where he held a number of high-profile positions, including metro columnist. Before that, he was a general assignment and Enterprise Team reporter. Before coming to San Diego, he worked for the Harrisburg (Pa.) Patriot-News, where he was the state reporter.