I am a professor of architecture at Cal Poly and I would like to say that the current design for the Garden Street Terraces project has my full support.
I believe most residents would agree that San Luis Obispo needs a downtown hotel that would allow visitors to experience the core qualities of our wonderful city.
I have lived in San Luis Obispo for almost 17 years and visited the city frequently before moving here. I lived within several blocks of downtown for my first five years, and now live about 1.5 miles away from downtown.I have been able to see and experience firsthand the many transformations over this period. I help to organize visits to Cal Poly that run the gamut from reaccreditation teams and conferences to tours for prospective faculty and administrators, and I can categorically state that there are definitely limited accommodations that reflect the essential character of this amazing place. And I’ve grown tired of apologizing for this — San Luis Obispo deserves better.
It would seem that the scales are now tipped toward building design that continues the existing historic fabric of downtown in a rather limited way: Bluntly put, if it blends in nicely, then there is no controversy.
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You can imagine the chagrin of educators having to tell students looking to be involved with designing and constructing future buildings to “just make it look like the other buildings around it” when designing. Where are the discussions about human scale, design details and use of innovative materials? The use of the word “modern” as it relates to new buildings can cause negative ripples in any community, but consider this: The word is relative in that all historic downtown structures were considered modern buildings when they were built.
My own view is that successful downtowns must be a reflection of the period in which they were constructed, and good design must provide a means to respect history through contrast of materials, interpretation of details and by carrying key pedestrian-scale elements into the new project. Anything less than this does a disservice to telling the story of a place, to opening up the rich history of any downtown.
I have followed Garden Street Terraces from its inception, have read all of the criticisms of the project, reviewed the drawings and extensive background research done for this project and have spoken to the architect about design decisions made along the way. It is my professional opinion that the architects have done an excellent job of scaling the project from a previous iteration and incorporating numerous pedestrian elements to better connect the project to the downtown.
This is a complicated infill project that has to bridge a range of periods of historic architecture. I would refer to it as more of a three-dimensional tapestry, respectful of the historic fabric of the past but providing transitions to the new. Perhaps what’s been overlooked is a simple fact: No other mixed-use retail hotel projects like this exists in downtown San Luis Obispo. It is precedent-setting. The architect, himself a local resident, has been respectful of this wonderful design opportunity. Perhaps our local media should lay the project out fairly on their pages so the public could gain a better understanding of its entirety. Don’t reduce it to single small images that do not render well on newsprint.
A few comments regarding the project’s details:
1. The new gray-colored patterned material connects the infill structure to the historic patterned bricks. A review of the entire project shows that this important element helps to anchor the work. I would strongly disagree with the statements that this is a faceless black box with no scale, or that the gray is much too dark and should therefore be changed. The point made by professor Sandra Lakeman that “ no buildings in the SLO downtown core are gray” is a point that supports its use (Viewpoint, Sept. 13). There is no place for mimicry in good design.
2. Scale elements such as openings and awnings that sensitively tie this project to the historic context of downtown have been done successfully. I’m perplexed by The Tribune’s comments of “ perhaps more awnings, cornices at the roofline, recessed windows, decorative arches, horizontal moldings — would add interest and help break up the masses of gray.” Don’t know how much more you can add without destroying a project with added elements like decorative arches.
3. The corner of Broad and Marsh streets is a key anchoring point of the project. If you look at this location and the other anchor points of the project, it’s important to note that the integrity of this corner should remain the same. In comparing this project’s corner design to some of the more recent downtown additions that blend in more with the historic fabric but don’t address the corner well, my opinion is that this design is light years ahead of others.
I would hope that the City Council and we as a community would not let this opportunity pass us by, to finally have this much-needed hotel in our downtown. It is a thoughtful, well-considered project, and I think one that will go a long way toward establishing a design vocabulary for the city’s buildings as we move into the future.
Thomas Fowler IV is a professor of architecture and director of Community Interdisciplinary Design Studio.