By Roger Showley
The future of the former SDG&E/Sempra building downtown could include a blimp on the roof, an 18-story climbing wall or a reworked exterior to let in fresh air.
Those are some of the ideas sent to building owner Sandor Shapery, who launched a design and idea competition in April for the 21-story building built in 1969 at 101 Ash St. downtown.
“There are some really good ideas from a number of different people,” Shapery said Monday. “The most worthwhile thing is to pick and choose.”
Shapery offered cash prizes of $2,000 to $5,000 in 17 categories with the possibility that one or more entrants might be retained to carry out some of their ideas. The winners will be chosen next month.
Co-owner of the building with developer Doug Manchester, Shapery bought the building in 1993 when SDG&E occupied the 444,196-square-foot skyscraper. Sempra, which later took over the local utility. After Sempra moved to a new downtown headquarters last year, Shapery launched the design competition to see what architects and urban thinkers thought he should do with his now-vacant building.
In the meantime he has asked Civic San Diego, the city’s downtown review agency, to lift the employment overlay zone that requires certain blocks to be reserved primarily for office or job use. Several other property owners also are asking for a change.
Ten individuals or teams submitted entries, some running to dozens of pages with elaborate sketches and computerized models. Others offered more modest concepts.
Many suggested a combination of hotel, residential and office use, plus shops, restaurants, a fitness center, community gardens and other public space. Several proposed a rooftop night club in a space originally intended for racquetball courts.
Some highlights include:
▪ An airship tower: J. Douglas Wright, an architect with PAC Thai International, proposes building a structure that resembles the 785-foot-long Akron, a helium-filled Navy airship built in Ohio in 1931. When it first visited San Diego in May 1932, three sailors died while trying to secure what was called the “Queen of the Skies.”
“In commemoration to the aviation history of San Diego, we would like to create an iconic architectural form” that would set the theme of the building, Wright said in his entry. The space within the airship structure would contain a restaurant, entertainment club and a pool serving a 180-room hotel.
▪ A “vertical village”: The AVRP Studios-Skyport Studio architectural firm and Parron Hall office furniture company, which submitted the longest proposal — Ayden @ Ash — at 89 pages, proposes a “vertical village within the city.” It would include a “city living room” for the public, community garage with workshop equipment available to residents and hotel guests. It would also offer a rooftop night club, “Gotham,” that peels back the exterior to reveal the mechanical workings of the building behind glass. Ayden, a variation on the Scottish-Gaelic male name Aiden, means “little fire.”
▪ An 18-story climbing wall: Cameron Y.Y. Atsumi, a student at the New School of Architecture and Design, wants to install a prefabricated concrete wall punctuated by “irregular holes for climbers to grasp onto.” “The climbers would start from a platform beginning on the third floor and finish on the building’s roof observation deck.” Atsumi also would install collectors on the facade to route fog condensation and rain to a water tank for irrigating the rooftop community garden.
▪ Natural ventilation: Tom McCabe of McCabe Architecture would remove upper floor window systems and bolted-on concrete fits to give its 101 Ash Place project better views and allow natural ventilation. He calls for up to 300 mini-hotel rooms like those operated by Pod Hotels and 32 large open residential loft units of up to 2,840 square feet that could be outfitted for commercial use as well.
▪ An outdoor public patio: Derek McFarland of DMCA Studio would break up the mid-century modernist style of the building by adding glassed-in “protruding boxes” on some levels. Called Thrive@Ash and removing the exterior wall on the fifth floor to create an outdoor public patio and view deck. “This development is delightful, full of life, a place to not just live but to thrive,” McFarland wrote.
Source: The San Diego Union-Tribune – sandiegouniontribune.com