Gerding Edlen Development and Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Partnership have been shortlisted for a new multi-block city hall project in San Diego, as previously reported by the Daily Journal of Commerce's Sam Bennett. The Portland team is a co-finalist with Houston developer Hines and its architect, Cesar Pelli.
Although Pelli is a better known name than ZGF, the Gerding/ZGF proposal is significantly more ambitious than Pelli's plan with Hines.
The Rose City team proposes a three-phase, public/private partnership that would in its first phase include a LEED Platinum-rated 34-story city hall with ground-floor retail, completed by 2013. The second phase, would have a 23 story tower with housing and ground-floor retail as well as an adjacent a 24-story office tower including a hotel or residential component, and a ground-floor grocery store. Phase three, completed in 2018, would have a 30-story residential tower with office and retail, underground parking and a fire station.
Hines, on the other hand, has proposed a 19-story office building and a four-story glass encased city hall with a public patio on top.
San Diego's city government nearly went bankrupt a few years ago, so there's an argument to be made for the conservative approach. But is a city hall project, when you have the chance to make the emblem for a city, the time to be conservative? Plus Gerding has shown that a huge component of architecture's success is its place-making. It's not like San Diego would have to commit to this mammoth six-block proposal all at once. But, taking a page from Portland, at least they'd have a good plan from which to go forth as the economy hopefully will have long since improved by these dates several years from now.
Meanwhile, if one were to judge by this rendering, of the 34-story city hall complex ZGF is proposing, what is the verdict on the look? At first glance I find it compelling, a bit like a clipper ship sail, which of course is very San Diego. (The NBA's Clippers once resided there; it's where Bill Walton went when he left the Blazers.) But it's restrained and not at all garish, either. There is a ton of glass, and the patterns seem to lie somewhere between the fractal patterns that have been fashionable of late (thanks to advances in window system technology) and the more linear, symmetrical patterns of previous modern architecture.
ZGF has already had several big, high profile institutional projects in Southern California, such as the California Science Center, and a very striking Food & Drug Administration complex in Irvine. And of course Gerding Edlen has some condo towers sprouting in La-La-Land.
Pelli, of course, designed the World Financial Center buildings that surrounded the World Trade Center in New York, as well as the Petronas Towers in Malaysia, which at least for awhile were the tallest buildings in the world.
In an interview I did with Pelli in late 2001 for Salon just a few weeks after the September 11 terrorist attacks, he argued that while the event was of course tragic, lower Manhattan actually looked more "handsome" without the WTC. I didn't say anything in the interview, but I totally disagreed and still do. I think the simplicity of the Trade Center design was wonderful, and when I was in college as a freshman, I was thrilled having a view of the towers from my dorm window at 10th and Broadway.