Perimeter block, corner
Dutra-Brown Building
Public, architect (James Brown & James Gates) | San Diego, USA | 1999
Image of Dutra-Brow...
South facade on Beech Street.

ProjectDutra-Brown Building
ArchitectPublic, architect (James Brown & James Gates)
CitySan Diego
Address680 West Beech Street
Building TypePerimeter block, corner
Number of Dwellings4-7
Date Built1999
Dwelling Typeslive-work studios
No. Floors5
Section Typepoint-access duplex
Exterior Finish
concrete, concrete block, metal sheathing, wood siding, metal
Construction Typemasonry/wood frame
Ancillary Servicesnone

This compact little tower is part of a larger block project sponsored by the Centre City Development Corporation, a non-profit agency created by the city of San Diego to undertake redevelopment of some of the downtown areas of the city. A group of local architects formed a group called the Little Italy Neighborhood Developers and submitted a proposal to develop an entire 200'x300' block in the Little Italy area. In keeping with the CCDC's preference for small-scale, individualized building rather than the typical apartment block, the LIND architects proposed several different buildings offering a range of alternative housing types including rowhouses, live/work lofts, granny apartments, and a recycled existing building. Below grade parking was avoided by developing the interior of the block as a shared landscaped space with some garages with apartments above and small parking courts. Dutra-Brown, named after the developers one of which was the architect, is one of a pair of partially-free-standing small vertical blocks facing south along Beech Street that define a passageway leading to a parking court and landscaped area on the interior of the block. Dutra-Brown and its sister the Merrimac Building, designed by Smith & Others, both rise from a two-story high masonry base and both have volumetrically expansive interiors designed to provide a range of live-work loft spaces and apartments.

The Dutra-Brown Building is 50' high, but because it is detached on three sides and has a small footprint, it seems to be a freestanding tower. The height has three distinct zones; a two-story high base of concrete, concrete block, and glass, a two-story piano nobili that is also double-height, and is sheathed in metal siding, and a top floor that looks like a beach bungalow, wood, painted white with projecting eaves and a trellised deck This three-part division mirrors the interior division of the building as well. The double-height space on the ground floor is presently used as a single apartment, but can be subdivided into several live-work rental spaces. A second double-height zone begins at the 3rd floor. Two different-sized apartments occupy this floor. Mezzanines along back side of the building provide a zone of sleeping lofts that are serviced by a narrow three-story structure attached to the garden side that contains the kitchens and baths for the lower two floors. The top of this element, rendered as a separate wood sheathed structure that is painted dark green, forms a terrace for the mezzanine for one of the second floor apartments. The top floor bungalow, now one story in height, is a separate apartment that opens to a roof deck to the west. An open steel stair on the back of the building provides access to the upper floors while the bottom level has several doors, reflecting the potential division into several units, which open to a narrow elevated walk between the face of the building and the edge of the sidewalk along Beech Street.

The palazzo imagery of rusticated base, piano nobili, and attic floors is reinforced by the use of different materials. Poured-in-place concrete and concrete block provide a dense masonry base while the wood framing of the upper floors is expressed with the metal cladding of the middle floors and the wood siding and overhanging eaves of the bungalow. Random imbedded industrial fragments that have been poured with the concrete and the steel windows from an old Navy warehouse have been left unpainted and used the full-height of the wall along the street leaving the impression of a new structure emerging from the sacred traces of a pre-existing industrial axis mundi. Industrial sash is also used to express the double-height of the piano nobili so that the glass and some of the masonry of the base interpenetrates the upper floors. The wall along the drive parking court in the interior of the block is a dense surface with small, recessed vertical slots of glass while the west façade that opens to a narrow slot between Dutra-Brown and the corner building has large glass openings. Parking is provided with angled parking along the street and spaces in the inner court from which there is access to the rear of the building. In addition to the roof terraces, a small balcony cantilevers from the 2nd floor marking a centralized zone of entrances to the ground floor spaces. The idea of the solid masonry datum is also used in the Merrimac Building next door so that a reading of a two-story high base along Beech street effectively continues the height of the existing Harbor Marine Building on the east corner and the double-height living room of the end unit of Jonathan Segal's rowhouses along Kettner Boulevard at the west corner of the block.

Architectural Record, March, 1999, pp. 83-85

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