In the summer of 2009, the San Diego Redevelopment Agency (SDRA) issued a request for proposals (RFP) looking for creative proposals for the adaptive reuse of the former JC Penney Building on University Avenue at Ray Street in North Park (the neighborhood North of San Diego’s Balboa Park – its 1,200 acre urban cultural park).
The excellent condition and high quality of the design of the existing building, a landmark in North Park, requires an approach that features both direct architectural intervention and subtle restraint.
This proposal was presented by a team comprised of Greg Strangman of LWP Group, Greg Shannon of Sedona Pacific Development, Jim Tanner of TannerHecht Architecture and Drew George of Drew George & Partners. It represents an attempt to add value to North Park’s Ray Street Arts and Culture District by properly positioning the design and development to fulfill the community’s vision and address the constraints of the current financial and real estate market.
Good design is based on the functional use of the site and the activity generated by the development, adaptively re-used for arts related purposes which enhance the cultural life and contribute to the North Park sense of community.
Our proposal to adaptively reuse the JC Penney building would enhance the activity and visual interest of University Avenue and contribute to the place-making at this key intersection in North Park. The county-wide lack of housing that is affordable to the artistic community and the workforce, coupled with the unique cultural and community characteristics of the district make the site well suited for unique urban living and working spaces for the arts. We propose a development that optimizes and adapts the existing building to accommodate 46 loft apartments and approximately 6,100 SF of commercial space, all within the current building envelope.
The primary constraints are the large floor plates and the blank monolithic appearance of the exterior wall along Ray Street. In both cases sunlight must be allowed into both the interior depths of the floors and strategically along the Ray Street frontage to facilitate activity and uses both within and around the Building. This has been achieved in the proposed building plans by carefully carving out a courtyard with an entry on to Ray Street.
The dramatic Ray Street opening and the courtyard form a simple, powerful organizing element that culminates with the roof plane. A field of photovoltaic panels organized on one side of this slot, and the rooftop garden and community room are located on the other.
The east-west orientation of the courtyard allows natural sunlight to penetrate into the center of the Building and encourages both resident and public movement into the space. The courtyard is envisioned as a lively 4 story space extending from the basement of the building to the roof-top. Artist’s live-work lofts surround the courtyard on the basement level and line the southern edge of the courtyard on the ground floor so that artists may rent a small unit that allows them to both live and sell their works from their home. The public would have access to both the basement and ground levels of the courtyard. Upper levels of the building and courtyard would be restricted to residents only, but with the primary circulation for the lofts around the courtyard and traversing the courtyard on bridges, activity and energy will be drawn into the courtyard while preserving the privacy required for residences. The existing main entry to the building on University Avenue will be maintained for the restaurant and retail uses, with direct access to the main elevator lobby of the residential component.
Driven by financial reality and consideration of the scale of the neighborhood, the architectural concept focuses on creating a viable living and working community within the envelope of the existing structure. The existing structure will be modified to meet our programmatic requirements and include updates to meet the requirements of life safety, seismic retrofit, and accessibility standards.
The project has been designed to intelligently reuse as much of the existing building as possible. Following the principles of sustainability we anticipate reusing not only the existing structure and exterior walls, but also the existing stairs, elevators, and floor framing that will be removed to create the courtyard. Materials that cannot be reused on site will be recycled. We are committed to achieving a “Gold” level of certification for the building under the standards of the U.S. Green Building Council.
Since the SDRA was unable to acquire the property, the project as we envision it will not move forward, at least not now. However, opportunities exist in North Park and other communities for creative adaptive reuse. We have to ask Why Not?
Central to our development concept is the “Community” lifestyle developed by LWP Group. Greg Strangman will address this in a future post.
(See also, Investing in Arts Development by David Malmuth, Urban Land Magazine, Jan. 10, 2011)