Design Guide: San Diego

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Architecture in San Diego—from newly built homes to modern classics like Kahn's Salk Institute—blends tradition and innovation in an exciting new way.

Nestled on the Pacific coastline, between Los Angeles’s sprawl and the Mexican border, San Diego is a California town with a rich modernist tradition. Louis Kahn's Salk Institute and Irving Gill's residential masterpieces are enough to reserve its place in architectural textbooks. Many contemporary architects in San Diego draw from Kahn's and Gill's lessons of simplicity and functionality in using simple, clean forms; utilizing the abundance of light; and maximizing open spaces. But they are also succesful in pairing midcentury classics with a strong awareness of sustainable practices, anchoring the city's design scene firmly in the 21st century. We take a look at some of the great design ideas that abound in the city from elaborately articulated outside spaces to airy interiors and inspiring architectural details.

A Nelson sofa sits on a handmade Persian Mahi rug in the living room. Photo  of Design Guide: San Diego  modern home

This San Diego home, designed by Soheil and Nima Nakhshab, brings together mid-century opulence with a contemporary quest for sustainability, as the first single-family LEED Gold–certified residence in San Diego. Here, a Nelson sofa sits on a handmade Persian Mahi rug in the living room. Photo by Ye Rin Mok.

A Nelson sofa sits on a handmade Persian Mahi rug in the living room.

Outside, a set of Bertoia chairs offer an appealing perch around a vintage glass-and-metal table. Photo  of Design Guide: San Diego  modern home

Soheil and Nima Nakhshaband's objective with Shayan House was to create a home that was not only green but that would also comfortably accommodate three generations of the family. The multigenerational home places great emphasis on outdoor space, where a set of Bertoia chairs offer an appealing perch around a vintage glass-and-metal table. Photo by Ye Rin Mok.

Outside, a set of Bertoia chairs offer an appealing perch around a vintage glass-and-metal table.

Modern home with Outdoor and Back Yard. Sebastian and Maricarmen take in the scenery from the comfort of their exposed living room. The couple sits on a Polder sofa by Hella Jongerius for Vitra. Photo  of Design Guide: San Diego

Even though he was born in Mexico City, San Diego–based designer and developer Sebastian Mariscal has readily absorbed the Californian obsession with deck life. This idea is clearly visible in his designs for a pair of identical houses called 2inns (pronounced “twins”). Here Sebastian and his wife Maricarmen take in the scenery from the comfort of their exposed living room. The couple sits on a Polder sofa by Hella Jongerius for Vitra. Photo by Bryce Duffy.

Sebastian and Maricarmen take in the scenery from the comfort of their exposed living room. The couple sits on a Polder sofa by Hella Jongerius for Vitra.

Matthew sets about finishing his latest knitting project while lounging on furniture of his dad’s design. A sound system and lighting by Halo are recessed into the ceiling. Photo  of Design Guide: San Diego  modern home

Architect Jonathan Segal sticks to his motto of keeping it simple in designing his own home in the section of downtown San Diego known as Little Italy. His son Matthew sets about finishing his latest knitting project while lounging on furniture of his dad’s design. A sound system and lighting by Halo are recessed into the ceiling. Photo by Randi Berez.

Matthew sets about finishing his latest knitting project while lounging on furniture of his dad’s design. A sound system and lighting by Halo are recessed into the ceiling.

Gabriella swings on the rope swing hung from the podocarpus tree. The twenty-foot-tall, steel-framed, custom-built wood screen provides enough privacy to give the outdoor space the feeling of a room, with the 50-year-old polocarpus tree acting as a roof. Photo  of Design Guide: San Diego  modern home

Public Architecture and Planning built this San Diego home for a family who loves the outdoors. Case in point: Gabriella swings on the rope swing hung from the podocarpus tree in the courtyard. The twenty-foot-tall, steel-framed, custom-built wood screen provides enough privacy to give the outdoor space the feeling of a room. Photo by Noah Webb.

Gabriella swings on the rope swing hung from the podocarpus tree. The twenty-foot-tall, steel-framed, custom-built wood screen provides enough privacy to give the outdoor space the feeling of a room, with the 50-year-old polocarpus tree acting as a roof.

The Schaffer's furniture includes an Eames Aluminum Group lounge chair ("and ottoman!" adds Im.) A coffee table made of glued, corrugated cardboard was the couple's first project together, when they met in college eight years ago. Photo  of Design Guide: San Diego  modern home

When San Diego residents Im and David Schafer moved in together they faced the challenge of combining the contents of David’s 880-square-foot loft and Im’s 550-square-foot apartment into a one-room, 426-square-foot downtown loft. The Schaffer's furniture includes an Eames Aluminum Group lounge chair ("and ottoman!" adds Im.) A coffee table made of glued, corrugated cardboard was the couple's first project together, when they met in college. Photo by Misha Gravenor.

The Schaffer's furniture includes an Eames Aluminum Group lounge chair ("and ottoman!" adds Im.) A coffee table made of glued, corrugated cardboard was the couple's first project together, when they met in college eight years ago.

Nestled between an existing concrete wall at right and the new reading loft at left is the entrance staircase, which Colkitt sheathed in rusted steel panels. He used Homasote, invented in 1909 and made from recycled post-consumer paper, for the work board at right and elsewhere in the space. “You can drill on it or tack onto it, and it’s more flexible than drywall,” notes Colkitt. Beneath the new reading loft, which is clad in drywall and set between the wall and the staircase, is a new hallway and dressing area leading to the bathroom. Photo by Cheryl Ramsay. Photo  of Design Guide: San Diego  modern home

In the absence of natural light, architect Nathan Lee Colkitt opened up his loft in order to maximize a sense of spaciousness in a multi-unit building in San Diego’s Little Italy neighborhood. Photo by Cheryl Ramsay.

Nestled between an existing concrete wall at right and the new reading loft at left is the entrance staircase, which Colkitt sheathed in rusted steel panels. He used Homasote, invented in 1909 and made from recycled post-consumer paper, for the work board at right and elsewhere in the space. “You can drill on it or tack onto it, and it’s more flexible than drywall,” notes Colkitt. Beneath the new reading loft, which is clad in drywall and set between the wall and the staircase, is a new hallway and dressing area leading to the bathroom. Photo by Cheryl Ramsay.

Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute (top left) is a stunning building that looks directly out to the sea. Architectural tourists flock to the site, which still functions as a working laboratory. Photo  of Design Guide: San Diego  modern home

Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute is a stunning building that looks directly out to the sea. Architectural tourists flock to the site, which still functions as a working laboratory. Photo by Bryce Duffy.

Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute (top left) is a stunning building that looks directly out to the sea. Architectural tourists flock to the site, which still functions as a working laboratory.

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