“New Heights” by AnnaMarie Stephens – Riviera Magazine, October 2012

“New Heights” by AnnaMarie Stephens - Riviera Magazine, October 2012

The numbers alone are enough to conjure up civic pride: 45,000 cubic yards of concrete, 12 million pounds of steel, nine different types of glass, Stalled for nearly four decades, the new Central Library is finally taking shape in downtown San Diego. It’s just one of several projects bringing next-level architecture, public art and green space to the city center.

Architect Rob Quiqley, who designed the first iteration of the sure-to-be iconic library in 1996, has watched the construction progress from his tangerine-painted live-work loft a few blocks away in East Village. His favorite part of the none-story structure? The domed penthouse, which includes a spacious reading room for the public, a feature requested by residents during citizen-input workshops.

A series of innovation lattices, made from eight 120-foot-high sails covered in sheets of perforated metal, protects the space from the sun while still allowing for stellar views of the city and sea. At night, the dome will glow like a welcoming beacon.

“The dome is an ancient architectural form that ties us not only to Balboa Park, but to the larger history of civic and community architecture,” explains Quiqley. “Yet the unique design and cutting-edge structural engineering of the dome is fresh and contemporary. More than any other building downtown, it will embody San Diego’s commitment to the future.”

Down by the harbor, internationally acclaimed local artist Roman de Salvo recently installed “The Riparium,” a large-scale public artwork that will server as a sculptural gateway to the Ruocco Park. The 45-by-70 foot piece, on the corner of Harbor Drive and Pacific Highway, consists of an abstract network of eucalyptus branches suspended by cables attached to three sailboat-evoking masts. It took de Salvo three years to complete the project, which involved finding and harvesting countless dead trees.

“It’s my biggest project so far, both in terms of scale and the importance and centrality of the location,” says de Salvo.

His landscape-framing installation nods to the new waterfront park’s namesake, Lloyd Ruocco, one of San Diego’s pioneering modernist architects. Ruocco and his wife, Illse, who was an art history professor at SDSU, started a fund 25 years ago to promote outstanding urban design.

“The city gets more interesting and exciting all the time,” adds de Salvo, who has lived in San Diego since 1992. “It’s got a lot of mediocrity to overcome, but we’re getting there bit by bit.”

Just off Broadway, jury duty won’t be quite as tortuous thanks to a new 16-story deferral courthouse that’s in the works. The $381.5 million structure has seriously boldface names attached. The building was designed by NYC-based architect Richard Meier, with an outdoor plaza project by La Jolla’s legendary conceptual artist Bob Irwin, who previously collaborated with Meier on the Getty in Los Angeles.

Irwin’s design features a ramp flanked by Ligustrum  hedges and 33-foot-high acrylic obelisk, a fitting contribution from one of the leaders of the light and space movement. Local artist Kim MacConnel, famed for his wildly colored abstract paintings, will also contribute pieces to the new courthouse.

“It has been an uphill battle for many years in San Diego to get good art installed in places where people congregate,” says Mark Quint, whose eponymous La Jolla gallery represents Irwin and MacConnel.

It may be an uphill battle, but the good guys are finally getting a foothold throughout the city. Even the oddly designed Horton Plaza, which revitalized the Gaslamp when it was built in 1985, is getting a facelift. Last year, the city unanimously voted to raze the old Sam Goody building, which will be replaced by a 37,000-square-hoot urban park, where concerts and other events will lure locals and tourists alike.

Danny Fitzgerald is counting on it. The urban strategist and real estate developer has been rallying behind the much-needed revamp in this corner of the Gaslamp.

“It’s a grand idea and investment, but it is frankly something we should have rallied behind a long time ago,” says Fitzgerald. “It’s exciting to take back our streets.”