San Diego–Tijuana vs. Netanya-Gaza conurbations: apples and oranges? Not quite. Both have similar climates (10° – 26° vs. 10° – 28° winter-summer averages,) extensive beaches, tourism, leading universities (UC San Diego – Tel Aviv University,) mixed populations, military industries, and intrapreneurial economies. Sure, Tijuana is not Gaza (maybe in the future?), and Tel Aviv’s 450 thousand population is by far more vibrant than San Diego’s 1.4 million, yet there are good reasons to take a good look at what’s going on in that city. For visualization, go to the video.
It was late May when we first considered the possibility of registering for a Brendon Burchard “Influencer” seminar for entrepreneurs in San Diego, in October. “We haven’t been there for about a decade. It sounds like a good excuse,” I said. We signed up. It turned out to be a good decision. What we saw and learned in a few days well exceeded our expectations.
“What’s new to see in architecture?” I asked Google while doing basic research. A small, five-story, mixed-use building, Torr Kaelan, caught my attention. It had been designed by Rob Quigley, an architect unknown to me. Some of the building’s details reminded Carlo Scarpa’s design. Googling more on Rob Quigley, I reached the San Diego Central Library project. I couldn’t tell much by looking at the photographs that I found online, but I marked it as a place to visit.
We decided to set our base in Little Italy. I found a lovely small hotel, Urban Boutique, next to a European-style piazza known at Piazza della Famiglia. It was located at about 2 km from the event we planned to attend. “We could do some exercise by walking the distance in less than a half-hour,” I said to Ruth. Once we arrived at the hotel, I parked the car and didn’t move it until we left the city.
We found the downtown area transformation, since the last time we had been there, very impressive. It had become a thriving center easily accessible by foot, bike, car, or public transportation. Its urban scale was right, the traffic was moderate, and we noticed a number of new, well-designed condominiums.
Yet the biggest surprise was the central library. According to the architect, it had been conceived as “a 9-story archive of flexible space, sandwiched at the top and ground floors, with diverse and accessible public amenities.” The library opened in 2013, following a protracted 17-year period of design and construction. This may explain the 1970s–1980s flavor. The material of choice was concrete, for both cost and maintenance.
A spacious atrium and a roof garden, accented by a symbolic dome, provided an urban identity to the building. We found the different areas well crafted, with some of the spaces quite spectacular.
The “Influencer” event, structured for entrepreneurship (psychology, physiology, productivity, persuasion,) was wrapped with energizing entertainment. Yet it was particularly remarkable for the diversity of its two thousand participants. People had come from all over the United States, and also from many other countries. A protocol of 4-5 short brainstorming sessions every day, including randomly chosen seating neighbors, generated over twenty new acquaintances. These included a woman from Soroka, in the Republic of Moldova, an actress from Istanbul, a French-Vietnamese couple from Montpellier, and other people with different interests and backgrounds, ranging in age from teenagers to adults in their seventy’s.
We couldn’t leave San Diego without revisiting Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute in La Jolla. It triggered memories. When we were in our late twenties, we worked in Tel Aviv for Ram Karmi. When Louis Kahn visited Israel, Karmi invited him and his wife for dinner at his condo, and he asked us to join them. At the end of the evening, he said to us: “pick up Kahn at his hotel tomorrow morning and show him the Central Bus Station,” of which I had been working on its details for several months. The gargantuan building, then under construction, was mostly done in exposed concrete.
Until a scheduled late-lunch, at 3:00 PM, to be joined by Carmela, Karmi’s his first wife, we spent five hours with Louis Kahn all for ourselves! During the three-hour-long lunchtime, Louis Kahn talked most of the time. It was like listening to Socrates. Kahn’s intellect was very high, and his language was, at times, incomprehensible to us.
Back in 1971, we had made our first visit to the Salk Institute at the end of our “Frank Lloyd Wright’s pilgrimage,” during which we had visited and photographed over one hundred of Wright’s works across twenty-five states. At the time, the Salk Institute was one of the most famous buildings in the world. Seeing it again forty-five years later was less impacting, although now I could read that, while the concrete remained impeccable, I discovered that its greatness was in its scale and in the way the large court opens to the ocean.
San Diego’s downtown transformation conveys an important message. It is possible to increase density while maintaining high standards of design quality. It is possible to mitigate traffic by bringing efficient public transportation. It is possible to build high-quality public buildings within the budget.