Thursday, July 12, 2007

Designer will 'tone down' tower over criticism

Designer will 'tone down' tower over criticism
Consultant had called structure 'very phallic'
By Jeanette Steele
July 7, 2007

DOWNTOWN SAN DIEGO – They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and two beholders – one of them a government agency's architect – have very different views of a 40-story residential tower proposed at a gateway to downtown San Diego.

Sandor Shapery says his design is like a flower. A consultant to the Centre City Development Corp. says it looks like a giant phallus.

The Shapery proposal, a 160-unit hotel and condominium tower, was supposed to go before the downtown redevelopment agency for initial feedback this month. But the developer asked for a postponement, saying he will “revisit” and perhaps “tone down” the design because he doesn't want to offend anyone.

Shapery, however, said he disagrees with the criticism. He said he wanted to create an “organic form,” which is how flower petals came to mind.

“If it looks like a phallic symbol, someone has a strange perception,” said Shapery, a San Diego-based developer. “You can find sex anywhere if you want to. . . . There's just some sick people out there.”

Gwynne Pugh, a Santa Monica architect hired by the downtown redevelopment agency to review building designs, has questioned whether the design is right for the city. The location, at 11th Avenue and A Street, is a prominent spot as a downtown entrance from state Route 163.

“With its rounded forms and swelling of the uppermost floors. . . this building structure is very phallic,” Pugh wrote in his critique of the project.

Some downtown residents seem to agree with Pugh. At one public meeting on the design, comments from the audience included “appalled” and “too iconic.” Someone compared it to Las Vegas architecture.

Shapery is no stranger to big, and at times controversial, developments downtown.

The lawyer-turned-developer built Emerald Plaza on West Broadway – the towers with green neon lights circling them at night – and the W Hotel at State and B streets.

Emerald Plaza had critics when it was proposed in the 1980s, Shapery said.

Some architects labeled it “pretentious” and “discordant” with its surroundings, according to a 1987 San Diego Union story. The newspaper's architecture critic wrote, “The building looks like a futuristic experiment, which is a fine thing on the drafting board but may look peculiar along staid Broadway.”

The architect for Emerald Plaza and Shapery's new tower is C.W. Kim of La Jolla.

Kim said the goal was to create a unique building. “You know, it's the mediocre buildings that anyone can do. Anyone can do a square building,” Kim said.

Shapery said the brouhaha about the proposed tower's look is obscuring the more significant topic: The shape goes hand-in-hand with the project's energy-conservation goals.

The developer wants the inside of the building to have multiple functions. For example, the plan is to use ice blocks in the air conditioning system, then recycle the melted water for use in the swimming pool, laundry and irrigation.

“The whole concept is it's really an organic form with no angles. Everything is flowing and rounded,” Shapery said. “People aren't really looking at what the building is really about.”

Jeanette Steele: (619) 293-1030;

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