San Diego, California

The landscape and urban design for a mixed-use development reflects the project’s creative vibe

The 35-block IDEA District — IDEA stands for Innovation, Design, Education & Arts — in downtown San Diego’s East Village is all about bringing talented people together: a laboratory for creative placemaking and entrepreneurial development.

IDEA1, the first ground-up project in the new district, is a block-sized building mixing housing with offices, retail and restaurants. The design centers around an outdoor courtyard and a three-level, flexible event space called The Hub, which hosts daily social, cultural and educational events. There is also a rooftop community area upstairs and pool deck, with a variety of seating areas separated by planters.

To mark IDEA1’s southern entrance, the landscape design takes to the air, via what’s known as the Green Soffit, a floating plant system that preserves the ground level for flexible events. Hanging from cables, the system supports more than1,600 Tillandsia plants, which require no root system or soil—only water, air and light. Developed through extensive research with the client, the system mists the plants every morning, keeps continue natural air flow, and uses small LED bulbs, which resemble fireflies to provide a healthy environment for the plants to grow.

To maintain flexibility and address the site’s sloping grade, the open Hub courtyard space is divided into three levels and delineated with different paving patterns, all meant to act as an extension of the nearby sidewalk and the development. The simple courtyard, which hosts more than 350 events a year, gives way to what’s known as Idea Box: a repurposed greenhouse on the second-floor with a wall of smart glass able to act as a movie screen, making the courtyard a dynamic setting for screenings and other nighttime events.

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