Graduate students from San Diego and Spain recently convened in an East Village art studio to put finishing touches on plans to redevelop and improve San Diego’s landscape, from Balboa Park down to the waterfront.
It’s a special project that involves seven students from the East Village-based NewSchool of Architecture and Design, and the Universidad Europea de Madrid, which is part of a six-unit studio course that each student takes in order to earn credit toward their master’s degree.
“The project is designed to look at the corridors that border Park Boulevard and create a district, similar to Sorrento Valley, but that encompasses technology with the arts in an urban area,” said Michael Stepner, a NewSchool professor of architecture and urban design.
Andres Treviño, one of the seven students in the class from the Universidad Europea de Madrid, looked at the area around Balboa Park, and saw an underutilized area on the east side of Park Boulevard across from the Prado where there is a canyon and a walking trail.
“This area is hard to access and doesn’t take full advantage of the San Diego views,” Treviño said.
His proposal was to build an approximately 200-foot-tall observation tower -- with retail and gathering spaces -- on the east side of Park Boulevard to compliment the existent Rose Garden, and give residents and visitors an area to see the San Diego Skyline.
His plan also includes building a new pedestrian bridge that can connect his tower with Balboa Park.
“The Prado already has a large sum of museums and educational spaces. It has Spanish renaissance styles to most of its buildings,” said Treviño, whose plan also takes into account preserving the local wildlife and vegetation, and signs to educate the public. “But the most important part is that the park is divided into two parts and the pedestrian bridge that exists is not really used, because there is nothing of importance on the east side of park.”
Students used lectures, field trips, design exercises, community discussions, and current plans and polices as tools of exploration and development of their concepts.
Stepner, adjunct professor Frank Wolden and Universidad Europea de Madrid professor Ramiro Losada are leading the three-month class.
They decided to look at the urban area of San Diego’s East Village because they see increasing interdependencies between design and technology, and the need for high-paying jobs that attract young, creative minds to this area.
Each of the seven students looked at a section of San Diego and finding ways to improve on the areas based on what already exists, like Petco Park, and what new entities would be needed for the future, such as alternative energy sources.
The areas include the San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park, San Diego High School, San Diego City College, the East Village, and the downtown waterfront and embarcadero.
Maria Tomé, student from the Universidad Europea de Madrid, looked at the core of the East Village.
She sees a lack of efficiency from moving from point A to point B, and thus a disconnect between residents and businesses when it comes to sharing ideas because of time wasted. Tomé used the concept of a social network to find a solution.
“Young Californians are changing based on the way they interact on social media like Facebook and Twitter,” she said, adding that 100 percent of college students are using at least one form of social media. “In the future, I believe, we will be interacting and sharing information more and more via social networks.”
Tomé’s blueprint involves building new sidewalks, bridges and platforms and reconfiguring streets so that residents can travel more efficiently in their own neighborhood of East Village and downtown San Diego by walking, and also clustering businesses and zoning them to create a district.
Her plan also includes building a multi-level, multi-layer structure (similar to a mall) where others are easily visible, which will have retail, offices and open space flexible enough to handle almost any use, including recreation, entertainment or education.
“We need to develop systems and not just designs, so that we can be more flexible and sustainable in the future because that is what we are going to need,” Tomé said.
The students’ project is also building off the I.D.E.A. (Innovative, Design, Education and Arts) District, a vision of real estate developers and designers David Malmuth and Pete Garcia.
The I.D.E.A. District is a 93-acre, sustainable mixed-use development idea that includes everything south of B Street, north of Market Street, west of Interstate 5 and east of Park Boulevard.
Malmuth said he wants the proposed district to be driven by a design-services job cluster, with a living laboratory and residences that foster creative and collaborative energy in innovation, design, education and the arts.
“Technology, design and the arts are the missing pieces of jobs in downtown,” Malmuth said. “Downtown is becoming a vertical bedroom community. We want to turn that around, so that downtown can be a place to work, live and be a recreational environment.”
He said ultimately he would like to see 15,000 new jobs because of this district and have locales such as open green space for interaction, and ground floor space for retail, office, educational and cultural space.
Tomé’s plan encompasses the I.D.E.A. District, according to Malmuth.
“These students are looking at citywide impacts and what design can do to further evolve a community.
"I loved that. I think this is where design is going,” said Malmuth, who had spoken with the students about their work a couple weeks ago.
He added that he also loved their passion and desire to talk about their work and findings.
Students were to present their work for final grading.
After the presentations, Universidad Europea de Madrid students will return to Spain, following their study-abroad work that also included a stop for three months in Shanghai.
The Madrid students are concluding the one-year, tri-continental architecture master program offered through the Laureate International Universities Network, in which NewSchool of Architecture and Design participates.
Wolden added that at the end of the course, students will have gone through a process that gives them a deeper understanding of the realities of architecture design on redevelopment property in an urban community, while looking at sustainability and economic influences.