San Diego – This week, Pauly de Bartolo and Ivan Rimanic, founding principals of de Bartolo + Rimanic Design Studio, sit down to re-imagine Paradise.
A precious gift of our open society is the free exchange of ideas. With the help of designers, ideas become imagery. With political will and financial impetus, imagery becomes reality.
For downtown San Diego, re-development ideas are continually being exchanged. Many have made the long journey to realization. From Jon Jerde’s Horton Plaza to Antoine Predock’s Petco Park, ideas have become buildings.
As a way of contributing new ideas and imagery, de Bartolo and Rimanic – enthusiastic Chargers fans – envisioned a new iconic home for the team. The stadium debate has dragged on for years with little clarity. “Public interest has waned with each new potential site,” de Bartolo says. He adds, “The same placeholder stadium design appears on multiple sites. People struggle to support a project with countless sites, and a single, generic design.”
To re-ignite public support for the project, de Bartolo and Rimanic make a compelling case for the proposed East Village site. Rather than simply designing a flashier stadium, the two posed a new question: can this site become more? That thoughtful question reframed the debate. Instead of focusing on a luxury building, used sparingly throughout the year, they emphasize an outdoor gathering space, enjoyed year-round.
Their East Village Master Plan offers new possibilities. What was once an endless expanse of asphalt north of Imperial Avenue becomes a monumental outdoor amphitheater. Grass and trees replace tar and paint; soft, living materials supplant hard, lifeless ones. de Bartolo recalls the Frank Gehry designed amphitheater in Chicago’s Millennium Park; “It’s spectacular, and it’s full of people on a cold, snowy day. Imagine pairing that space with San Diego’s weather!”
Borrowing a page from the Balboa Park playbook, their design nests energetic architecture within a natural setting. In fact, the site in the East Village is a natural extension of Balboa Park, sitting along Park Avenue, a green belt designated by the Centre City Community Plan.
This is a bold step toward a more pedestrian-friendly city. Do we favor spaces for our cars or our children? de Bartolo and Rimanic want to upend the apparent preference for, “parking over parks.” Rather than add parking, they prefer placing fans’ cars in the existing 50,000 spaces within 10 blocks of the site. This strategy offers maximum space for play. If Qualcomm Stadium is an outdated model, then its use of 19,000 surface parking spaces is also a relic.
Critics of their proposal contend that without parking around the stadium, tailgating is impossible. The designers counter, “Instead of spending $100 on groceries, for tailgating, from an established super-market, take the trolley downtown and spend that $100 in local, small businesses.
Others argue that their design ambitiously extends beyond the Chargers’ proposed site. The designers explain, “Sometimes, in order to fully explore a concept, the rules need to be broken.”
Sometimes ideas are bigger than a single site. In order to emphasize the quality of future development, ideas should not be unnecessarily constrained by limited quantity. Then, the forum for free ideas can flourish.
Although the Chargers have a team architect, de Bartolo and Rimanic know the most compelling ideas do not always come from the top down; sometimes they emerge from the bottom up. The duo points out, “Anyone can create the right idea.” The pair advocates design competitions as a way of generating new ideas. They ought to know, being natives of Sydney – a city that discovered its beloved waterfront icon, the Opera House, from the competition entry of a little-known Danish architect, Jorn Utzon1.
For now, their plan remains on the drawing board. The Chargers have not solicited de Bartolo and Rimanic, nor has a design competition been announced. They are driven by their love of the city and the team. Not content sitting on the sidelines, these designers are letting their ideas do the talking.
1. Winning entry was one of 233 designs from 32 countries, many of them from the most famous architects of the day. When Opera House was declared a World Heritage Site on 28 June 2007, Utzon became only the second person to have received such recognition for one of his works during his lifetime.
Photo: East Village Stadium Aerial Rendering – Courtesy of de Bartolo + Rimanic Design Studio