December 22, 2000

Market Creek Plaza Proves that Architecture Can Become Art With Unconventional Design Process

All cultures share an artistic heritage —designs, textures, and patterns unique to a certain people. Through the celebration of art and culture, a thread of commonality, much like the thread of a tapestry, weaves cultures together.

A key goal of Market Creek Plaza, the innovative mixed-use commercial development project at the intersection of Market Street and Euclid Avenue, is to accomplish this fusion through an unconventional relationship between the architects planning the project and several artists from the area. The Arts and Design tea, made up of artists, architects and residents from the community, is working together to create a unique look and feel reflective of all cultures in the area.

From the beginning, architect Hector Reyes, senior designer from Fehlman LaBarre, embraced this unusual approach to designing Market Creek Plaza. As a native San Diegan with cross-national roots, he acknowledged that his bi-cultural background helped him gain perspective on the project.

"We're attempting to create a sense of community," Reyes explained. "This is not just some buildings with historical references. The approach we're taking with Market Creek Plaza may be emulated in other places, but will remain unique within each community."

Following the consensus-building approach that defines the Jacobs Center for Non-Profit Innovation, developer of Market Creek Plaza and action arm of the Jacobs Family Foundation, Reyes began working with well-known Chicano mural painter Victor Ochoa. Ochoa took the lead on seeking community input for the artistic design of the project. Residents were invited to a meeting and encouraged to bring items symbolic of their cultural heritage. Ochoa expected items like pictures and books, but much to his surprise, many people brought textiles.

"We filled an entire table with textiles, and not long after, an almost magical thing happened," he explained. "Everyone in the room was looking at the table, and then became very quiet. We all saw consistency in the brightness of color, the patters and texture of the fabrics. You simply couldn't tell one culture's textiles from another, because they had so many common characteristics. It showed us how we are more alike than different."

Reyes gives much credit to Ochoa's discovery of the unifying influence of textiles, and he commented that working so closely with an artist at the beginning of the project was a very unique and refreshing approach.

"It's not unusual to bring an artistic in on a project," commented Reyes. "What is unusual is to bring in an artist to be part of the process and to give direction on what the community expects. Artists have an ability to grasp the essence of the community with more clarity, and that was a great asset. The architects, in turn, bring the essence to life and fruition, thus creating a valuable partnership."

"This process is community driven," Reyes explained. "The vision of Market Creek Plaza is that of a festive place where multicultural heritage comes alive with sound, color and visual performances. We also realized that we would be setting an important precedent. Market Creek Plaza is full of unconventional ideas - not standard solutions."

Ochoa brought in other artists from the community and asked them to help bring the vision of the residents to life. Patrick Brown, Jean Cornwell, Jose Morales, Armando Nu-nez, and Mario Torero worked together to define the artistic essence of the community and create an environmental that pays tribute to each of the area's rich and multicultural heritages. In paying tribute to the past and creating a unified future, Market Creek Plaza will present an atmosphere in which art is architecture and architecture becomes art.

"Community art is so important in how we define ourselves," said Jennifer Vanica, executive director of the Jacobs Center. "We want there to be a sense of the world meeting to get this piece of work done together."

In January 1999, the community was introduced to the initial design concepts of Market Creek Plaza as prepared by Fehlman LaBarre for entitlement approval for the City of San Diego. An open forum was held to allow feedback and guidance for future efforts.

"The community felt the direction needed revision," said Reyes, who spent months developing the drawings. "The solution to this problem, proposed by the Jacobs Center, was to bring in more ideas from other architectural firms."

Four other firms, including a landscape architectural firm, were brought into the project. To prevent the message of Market Creek Plaza from being misunderstood, representatives from each fir, the five artists and some residents from the arts and design committee convened for a six-hour information exchange and brainstorming session.

Due to the artists' participation in residents meetings, each artists was able to express the desires of the whole community, and not just the artist's individual vision on the project. For the architects, the challenge then become how to incorporate what they had seen into a unique architectural solution.

Now equipped with a better understanding of the com-munity's expectations and the artists' interpretations of those desires, each firm began the task of preparing new drawings. One month later, the designs were anonymously presented to the community, offering the architects no opportunity for comment on their respective designs.

The room was filled with new drawings expressive of ethnic diversity and plurality. A pyramid-shaped parking garaged that showed Mayan and Egyptian influences, a clock-tower with Mexican and Native American imagery, buildings with pagoda-type rooflines, a state-of-the-art office building with a dramatic, vertical, curved facade with cultural imagery and drawings for Food 4 Less which incorporated vertical, visual components were some of the elements included in the new drawings. Accompanying the elevations were site plans detailing the best use of land and space.

The elevation that was best received by the community used mostly earth tones of sand, gold, tan and muted green with bright accents. It also carried a consistent architectural theme that blended simple forms and shapes into a harmonic mix that was reflective of a variety of cultures, but not identifiable as any one specifically. A clear mix of Native and Central and South American, Asian and African shapes and symbols tied the elements together individually and as a group.

"I think the architects did a very good job of listening to what the community was saying and incorporating all of those ideas," artists Nunez said.

"By giving the community the opportunity to vote on the character of the designs, they have gained an invaluable experience to critique and judge design," said Reyes. "The community has been empowered in this process of critiquing and suggesting what they actually want to see."

After four years, Market Creek Plaza is coming to life with a look and fell all its own. The consensus building process illustrates the Market Creek Plaza can be both a commercial mixed-use center and a cultural center. "We have created a place that is intriguing, welcoming colorful, sculptural, unique, multicultural and respectful," said Reyes.

Robert Brandy, president of the MultiCultural Contractors Group, part of the construction collaborative that is building Market Creek Plaza stated, "One of the most exciting things is that it's going to look very much like our community. I've never seen a center put together this way."

Construction of the complex is in the early stages, and the artists are creating finished prototypes for their contributions of the project. The first architectural and individual art pieces to debut at Market Creek will be the Food 4 Less building and four 16' x 16' murals created by Ochoa. Each panel will show the many faces of people from the multicultural backgrounds of the community.

Additionally, Reyes stated, "What makes a great space is not the buildings, the foreground or the landscape. It's the people that occupy the space. We're just trying to create a backdrop for the people to come together in a multicultural celebration. This is just the beginning. Market Creek Plaza is the catalyst for the future development that may occur around the periphery of the project."

"We've accomplished quite a bit," said Ochoa. "We learned it is possible to design something that represents us all and is very balanced. Historically, this area has been a prism that has been clouded through the years. But Market Creek Plaza is going to return the clarity to that prism so that the rainbow of colors can shine through again."

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