Last night was the San Diego Architectural Foundation’s (SDAF) first “Context” event, which featured a discussion between Darlene Shiley, Dr. Irwin Jacobs, and Robert Wellington Quigley about the process that brought the new Central Library to fruition, and its implication for future civic projects in San Diego. Jacobs and Shiley were major financial contributors and Quigley was the architect of the project. SDAF is best known for it’s annual Orchids & Onions architectural awards event and periodic local PechaKucha events. The event was the first of a planned new series by SDAF in which it hopes to foster more in-depth discussions regarding San Diego’s urban form.
The event started with a mixer in the upper courtyard of the Library. Food were provided by Four Seasons Foods Catering and Snake Oil Cocktails provided the beverages. Both entities raised the bar for catering such events. Each demonstrated the increasingly used term (in the food and beverage industry) “craft,” as their wares were artistically presented with taste to match. The gallery off of the upper courtyard was also open with a presentation that was missed by this author while he was enjoying the cuisine and conversation.
After the mixer, guests were ushered to the ground floor courtyard for deserts (including port wine). (As a side note, the lower courtyard coffee kiosk is still closed as government displays its lightning-not speed in securing a vendor to operate it). From deserts, guests moved into the Library’s modern but warmly appointed and intimately sized new auditorium.
The presentation began with a video narrated by Quigley. We learned that the process for a new library began in 1977, and involved potential new libraries at Lane Field, American Plaza, and the current site. Among other things, in the video, Quigley revealed his belief that San Diego needs civic assets like the library because the “weather is not enough” to provide citizens a high quality of life and he explained that the dome is meant to look unfinished because it symbolizes what goes on in the library is ever changing.
After the video, the live conversation began. Darlene Shiley acted as moderator and displayed the wit and charm of a professional talk show host, making several comedic quips including a reference to the tenacious fund raising led by Mel Katz and Judith Harris, and the leadership provided by former Jerry Sanders (including cocktails served in the mayor’s office to assist in the soliciting of donations). She also revealed her initial hesitance to contribute to the project because her her husband “wasn’t fond of donating to civic projects” because he believed he couldn’t trust the city. However, she explained that her lack of faith was overcome by the people involved with this project, including the aforementioned individuals. Now she noted, the Library’s multi-faceted success as a community resource can be seen in such collateral things as the fact that the library is booked as a wedding space through 2015.
Dr. Irwin Jacobs was introduced. He was CEO of Qualcomm from 1985 – 2005. He holds 8 honorary doctorates and has been identified as one of the 50 most generous philanthropists in the Country. As a child in Massachusetts, he often took the trolley to the Boston Public Library and left with a pile of books. It’s Washington Reading Room was the first public library room in the country dedicated exclusively to childrens materials.
He noted that “whenever Joan and I took trips . . . we always would go and search out the library. They were always packed [with people]” and it wasn’t just for books but for other resources as well. He said people question the need for libraries but when you see their actual use, it confirms their present day importance.
He first became aware of Quigley when “Rob did a home for a friend of ours. He was so thoughtful . . . he worked so well [with people]. ” He and Joan were compelled to get involved when deadlines came up with money that might get pulled out of the project. He “by the time we were involved with it, the project went ahead really well.” Whatever he brought up, the project team had already thought about. He said he didn’t have to do anything but watch it being built and enjoy it. But the funding was broken into phases, which resulted in constant predictions in the media of failure. Nevertheless, “working with the city turned out to be very clean, very straight forward.” When the School Board stepped up to close the funding gap by approving a charter school at the library, it made the project viable.
Now the school has more people applying than there are openings. He and Joan knew that operating expenses would be a significant difficulty. So in addition to their capital donation, they have committed to donating $1 million a year for five years to cover operating expenses.
Does he think that the Library is a catalyst for future projects? Despite the success of the project, he is not hopeful that civic projects in the future will get funded here. Pot holes are taking precedence. Funding for the library came from sources that don’t even exist anymore.
Robert Wellington Quigley, the project architect also responded to questions from Shiley. He is a native Californian. He described his long up and down experience as the project architect as “one of aging” – a lot of frustration but ultimately satisfaction. The design of the project involved a “long and intimate interface with library staff. They were the ones that were going to be using it.” It also involved numerous public workshops, which created a project roadmap. This proved to be very helpful, not only in the design, but in the prioritization of its features so that later, if a feature like the dome was being scrutinized, it was hard to eliminate because it was documented that it was something people really wanted. The workshops are what resulted in amenities like the gallery being located at the top of the library rather than the ground floor as is the case with most libraries.
He said architects are marriage counselors . . . reconciling and mediating competing ideas. For example, he said every modern library has a soaring atrium. The city said that there wasn’t enough in the budget for that. Library staff said they wanted that space used for books, not an atrium. Initially, he was disappointed but the more he thought about it, the more he realized they were right. “That’s who we [San Diego] are.” Other things he likes about the library: the building tracks beautifully with the sun. Also, the building is “not finished . . . it is made to be altered” for future adjustments.
With regard to the Jacobs involvement, they “didn’t just write checks . . . they were actively involved.” He found that unusual. However, he said Dr. Jacobs is not a micro manager. The Jacobs involvement also changed the way people thought about the project.
Quigley was also asked what hurdles to the project he would change for future projects. He said the City needs a City architect (notably, the City’s last City Architect, in the early 90s, Michael Stepner, was in attendance). There is a need for someone on the city side at a high level with a planning or architectural background. Quigley also said cities need to recognize that these projects are not set in stone when the architectural plans are first drawn up. “Architecture is not a law document.” There are changes, opportunities, and needed fine tuning that occur as the project is being built. Therefore, the city needs to include a “tuning budget” into the project, e.g., 1/2%.
With regard to other unique aspects of the Library, he noted that it is the largest privately funded library. It is the only public library with a charter school in it. He hopes that future generations think that we (early 21st century people) cared about them. Does he think that the Library a catalyst for future projects? He said it means we can do wonderful things for our community.
Part III of the program had Shiley asking Quigley and Jacobs what other projects were most important to them. This program started with the listing of a number of long planned or discussed projects, which included both “bricks and mortar” projects and planning projects:
– City of Villages
– New Regional Airport
– New City Hall
– North Embarcadero Plan
– Convention Center Expansion
– Wings of Freedom – multi-story sculpture for the harbor
– Lane Field redevelopment
– New Charger Stadium
– Regional Master Plan (106 years since last by Nolan)
– Art Walk – circular walk in bay
– San Diego River – river park
– Balboa Park Centennial
First, Rob Quigley spoke. He chose as a favorite project what he termed “Freeway Green Roofs.” These were freeway caps over I-5 downtown, reconnecting downtown with Balboa Park and with communities East of downtown. They would also provide additional public / park space but could be anchored by a high-rise or new city hall to help pay for it.
Next, Dr. Jacobs discussed his preference for a new regional airport. He said he is a great fan of Lindbergh Field with its convenience to downtown and the great first impression it gives visitors due to its harbor-side location. However, he believes that there is a need regional airport with more international flights. He believes that the walkway to Tijuana’s Rodriguez Airport is an improvement but it remains to be seen if it will satisfy the need for more access to international flights. He favors a supplemental airport at the southern end of Camp Pendleton that could draw from both Orange and San Diego Counties. He believes that it’s location near existing rail could enhance rail transit. He could even foresee some type of flight check-in at the train station where baggage could go straight through to the flight.
Finally, Rob Quigley gave his views regarding the Charger’s stadium issue. He said he believes that the “current discourse is a little short sighted.” He began with an alternatives analysis as follows:
– Fixing up Qualcomm would be $50 mil.
– Tearing down the Q and building a new stadium would be $1 bil.
– Building a new stadium downtown would involve even more infrastructure costs.
– All alternatives except upgrading the existing stadium are infeasible.
– Economists say that building stadiums provide no overall economic benefit.
– Super Bowls have little economic benefit to cities that are already tourist destinations. Thus, it is not worthwhile to build a stadium with the large crowd capacity required for Super Bowls.
– Stadiums are not baseball parks, i.e., they are totally inward oriented (and have far fewer games – my addition)
Then he displayed on the AV monitors what he termed as napkin sketches. He qualified by noting that he has no stadium building expertise. He noted that that the existing Qualcomm stadium structure has historical value, possibly even landmark status, as mid-century period architecture. He believed that the structure was worth saving but that it could be modified by building inside of it – build inside the existing bowl – he used a coffee / tea cup as an example. This concept could accomplish the modifications desired in modern stadiums of bringing viewing closer to the field. He would tilt the seating on the sides and end zones up closer to the field. Then in the corners, he proposed towers which would hold the luxury suites. The tops of the towers could support shading structures and / or solar panels. It was an imaginative and thought provoking concept. Moreover, his fundamental assumptions were logical and sobering.
It was a great event. At first, it seemed that the admission price was a bit expensive for a city used to tickets under $25 for such discussions. However, this event was clearly a cut (large cut) above the others. The hosted craft bar and food catering ended up making the event quite economical and the crowd also seemed a cut above in terms of people with passion or capability regarding the city’s civic future.
(Disclosure: the author is a member of the SDAF Board of Directors)
All photos except Context poster by author and his wife Saam.