Sept. 21 2011 06:01 PM

Lecture series fosters a dialogue between architects, historians and the public

The Alden residence by Rob Quigley, the next lecturer in the “Contemporary Architects Making History” series
Photo by Juergen Nogai
Contemporary architecture tends to get a bad rap in San Diego. The city lost another piece of contemporary architecture just last month when one of San Diego State University's most iconic buildings—the historic Aztec Center designed in 1964 by Mosher & Drew Architects—was leveled. For its new student center, SDSU will seek comfort in the banality of Mission Revival style.

For Angeles Leira, curator of the La Jolla Historical Society's lecture series “Contemporary Architects Making History,” San Diego's preference for the ornamentation of revivalist styles reflects a lack of exposure to good modernist architecture. She aims to change that by offering this lecture series to educate the public and inspire more public dialogue about what constitutes “good” architecture in San Diego.

“People that focus on preserving historic architecture get into the trap of thinking that only the old is valuable,” explains Leira, an architect who works for the city of San Diego. ”And I wanted to show how contemporary architecture can also be beautiful and enhance our environment.”

Started in February of this year, three lectures remain in the series of 10, presented monthly at 7 p.m. Thursdays in the historic Wisteria Cottage (780 Prospect St. in La Jolla). The next lecture, scheduled for Sept. 22, will feature Rob Quigley, owner of Rob Wellington Quigley Architecture, Planning & Preservation and the architect who designed the new Downtown library, the San Diego Children's Museum and UCSD's Student Services Center. The series continues on Oct. 27 with a lecture by Laura DuCharme Conboy of DuCharme Architecture and concludes on Dec. 15 with a lecture by James Alcorn, architect emeritus of Alco& Benton Architects.

One common concern the series will address is how to strike a balance between historic preservation and contemporary style. And what constitutes a “historic” building is often up for grabs. As Leira notes, even the people in charge don't always embrace mid-century modernist architecture in San Diego.

“We recently had modernist buildings that came before the historic resources board, and they said, ‘Oh that's not historic. It's not perceived as historic if it doesn't have the ornamentation and bric-a-brac we are used to.'”

Leira hopes the lectures will help San Diegans learn more about the practices of architects so that they can “begin to separate good architecture from bad, discriminate between excellence and work that is not well thought-out and well done.” While we might consider good architecture to be subjective, Leira believes that knowledge and exposure to new architecture can sharpen our sensitivity to excellence in design.

“It's something that you feel, and because it is something that you feel, it is branded as something that is subjective,” Leira notes. “But there are very objective reasons why it is good architecture. It has a scale, a play of materials and usability that is obvious. Everything comes together in a very easy way.”

And Leira hopes that greater sophistication and dialogue among architects, historians and the public about those objective factors can help San Diegans create and maintain a more beautiful and satisfying built environment.

“It's like everything else, it's about having exposure and knowing something about it,” she said. 

More culture events

The new world: The Atlantic and UCSD are partnering up for The Atlantic Meets the Pacific, a three-day seminar of conversations on topics like “Social Networks, Interconnectivity and a New World Order” and “Innovation Culture: Notes from the Frontier of Energy, Technology and Medicine.” Promoted as an event geared toward “thought leaders” and featuring speakers like Deepak Chopra and Evan Williams of Twitter, it's happening from Oct. 17 through 19 at The Scripps Seaside Forum (8610 Kennel Way, La Jolla). Email for more.

Good and bad: The best thing about going to the Orchids & Onions Awards Ceremony is when someone who gets an onion for bad architecture or urban development actually shows up and is somewhat of a good sport. The always lively and informative O&O Awards Ceremony & Silent Auction is happening on Oct. 27 at the Balboa Theater (868 Fourth Ave., Downtown), which, incidentally, won an Orchid back in 2008 for historic preservation.

Get inspired: Richard Dreyfuss will be at this year's TEDxSanDiego event, and so might you if you apply now. Event organizers are accepting applications in batches starting in September and running through the end of October, and if last year's day of fascinating, fast-paced talks are any indication, this year will leave attendees just as inspired. The live event is on Dec. 3 at Irwin Jacobs Hall at Qualcomm (5775 Morehouse Drive). Apply online at

Eye on science: The Center for Ethics in Science and Technology and Balboa Park's Reuben H. Fleet Science Center continue their Exploring Ethics lecture series, which examines science from an ethical perspective. Next up is “The Politics of Race, Class, Gender and HIV/AIDS in South Africa” at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 5. Then, at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 2, it's a chat with Rebecca Skloot, author of Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a great book about the use of Lacks' cells unbeknownst to her family for years.

Join the ride: New Belgium Brewing's Tour De Fat event isn't just a beer fest; it's a subculture celebration of all things deemed cool by the bike-riding, beer-drinking hipster set. From bike-themed carnival games and a costumed bicycle parade to really good live music and local food, the event is a must for anyone who owns a pair of Toms or has a beard. It's happening from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 1 at Golden Hill Park.

—Listings compiled by Kinsee Morlan


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