By Jennifer Vigil
World-renowned architect Louis Kahn's Salk Institute in La Jolla is hailed as one of modern architecture's top achievements.
Thanks in part to PechaKucha ( Japanese for "chit-chat") - a lecture series wherein the region's prominent architects and other designers converge to watch colleagues demonstrate their creative approach via six-minute slide shows (20 slides, 20 seconds each) - the conversation on compelling local architecture doesn't end there.
"There definitely seems like there's a surge of public interest around the built environment and what kind of an effect it has on us," says Maxine Ward, president of the San Diego Architectural Foundation (SDAF), which sponsors the lectures. "Our mission is about promoting the value of excellence in design of the built environment as a whole."
Since 1980, SDAF has been a key player in helping "to raise the level of awareness of what's out there in architecture and why it's important to care," says Ward.
What's out there, she explains, is a modern and contemporary aesthetic that reaches beyond San Diego's monuments and into neighborhoods. To illustrate her point, the esteemed conversation-starter cites these four residential projects as examples of the city's sublime design.
• Built in 2012.
• Number of units: four mixed-use (live/work), three-bedroom/ three-bathroom, 1,800-square-foot town-homes - each situated above a high-visibility, 375-square-foot retail space and parking.
• Many locals refer to the structures as "sails."
• At 19-feet-wide, 30-feet-tall and four feet apart, the houses feel like live-aboard boats.
• The name "Sema 4" is pronounced "semaphore," the flag system used for maritime communication.
• Sustainable features are numerous and include the nonexistent commute from the store downstairs to the house above.
"It's tough for architecture in beach communities to be inspired by beach references without being cheesy - think of much of the architecture found in Mission Beach and Pacific Beach - but that's not so with this project. It's eye-catching in its form that takes its cue from the hull shape of boats. The way the natural wood curves to screen the outdoor deck also has a sail-like quality. What you don't realize from the exterior is that each of these four live/work buildings was designed from the inside out to be compact and efficient, just like a boat. This project captures the spirit of the coastal community in a modern way." -Maxine Ward
• Built in 2013.
• Number of new units: three - two two-story lofts, 650 square-feet each; one single-story penthouse, 1,000 square-feet.
• The historic home (two bedrooms, one bathroom, 1,000 square-feet), of Victorian Working Man Cottage-style, was built in 1888 by Fred W. Osborne, who played a significant role in San Diego's early development.
• LEED Platinum accreditation, which means the property offers (among other sustainable features) easy access to public transportation, public parks and local shops and restaurants.
• Rooftop solar panels nearly eliminate electric bills.
"Union 4 is thoroughly modern while embracing the historic roots of the surrounding neighborhood. This is a model for other San Diego infill projects. When many developers have a site with an existing structure, the tendency is to tear down the old to make way for the new. Not so here. The historic house [built in 1888] has been integrated into the project. By transforming the original building, they made the entire project better. The new building doesn't try to emulate the historic house, but forms a clean-lined backdrop that allows the transformed house to be the star of the show." -Maxine Ward
• Built in 2008.
• Single-family residence: four bedrooms, four bathrooms, 2,900 square-feet.
• A rich, tropical hardwood entry screen lends privacy by concealing the main gate and garage door.
• The covered lanai expands open living space to the outdoors, giving the property an expansive, organic feel.
• A roof-deck lounge with a fire pit overlooks Mission Bay.
• Bonus room: 1,100 square-foot basement space.
"This house speaks 'Coastal San Diego' to me - the expansive glass windows below a floating roof overhang to capture the views and the breezes off the bay while shading the interior; the seamless transition between inside and outside; the compact house footprint while utilizing the outside spaces between parts of the house as outdoor rooms; a sense of privacy while not being fenced off from the surroundings. This is San Diego living. And to top it all off, a large sheltered balcony off the bedroom where you can throw open the doors and feel like you are sleeping outside." -Maxine Ward
• Built in 2008.
• Single-family residence: four bedrooms (plus a rec. room), three bathrooms, 3,774 square-feet.
• Sustainability features include solar hot water, low-water landscaping, rain water catchment, high level of recycled building material content and natural ventilation (no A/C), among others.
• A unique one-room-wide (18'x90') floor-plan maximizes the natural light and air each room receives.
• The 450-square-foot balcony capitalizes on canyon and city views.
• "I built our home with my father - a really terrific experience that will always stay with me." - Kevin deFreitas, architect
"This house is thoroughly modern in both its appearance and its function. As a highly energy-efficient home, it incorporates many of the green bells and whistles such as rooftop solar panels, energy-efficient lighting and radiant floor heating. But it also harkens back to a simpler time, using time-tested passive methods of energy conservation such as natural ventilation and strategically placed windows and overhangs. This family home is located on the site to create a sense of arrival into the central courtyard below the bridge, which connects the house with the separate office and garage. This expansion of the livable space to the exterior between these two parts of the house maximizes the way we can live in our beautiful climate." -Maxine Ward